Dr. Zur has a new blog post on this topic that raises question (no answers at this point). Should you Google your clients? Dr. Zur wants to consider the ethics of this. There are two ways to try to explore this topic from an ethical point of view.
- What do the ethics codes say? Codes say nothing directly about this. Indirectly, we are to work to protect their dignity and human freedom. We are to act beneficently. We are to seek consent before we provide treatment or access private and protected information. We are not to give out their information without consent. Questions to ask: oes googling a client risk revealing their identity to others? It might if you use a shared computer. Would Googling access private and protected information? It shouldn’t. However, many people blog and post private information that might shock them if others in their various circles found out. Many do not consider this when posting comments or personal information.
- Beyond the codes, is it good practice to search for information about your clients? Or put another way, how might searching for information about your clients cause harm? Might it change the relationship? Change your opinion of them? Make you less interested in helping them? What if the information you find isn’t accurate? Might it cause you to use that information in a coercive manner? Might it be used to practice a form of voyeurism (which is a form of using clients for our own pleasure)? These kinds of questions raise moral and theoretical issues as much as ethical ones.
Dr. Zur lists a number of vignettes that might well cause you to answer yes to our initial question. Googling might reveal safety issues, legal issues, even life issues that would be helpful to know. So, our answer will never be that it is unethical.
I would leave you with this question. How will you feel if your clients know you have googled them? Will you be embarrassed? If so, you ought not to do it. Similarly, if a client comes in knowing lots of things about you that they gleaned from the Internet (work history, family, etc.), do you feel stalked? Maybe we should consider the “Do unto others…” command here.
One last pragmatic point. It is sometimes possible today to find out who is Googling you. Keep that in mind as you think about this issue.