Cybersecurity

Gen-Z social media activists expose hiring portal weaknesses at Starbucks, Kroger

A flood of fake job applications by online activists signals need for job-portal safeguards.
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Alessandro Biascioli/Getty Images

· 3 min read

Gen Z, the “digital native” generation, aren’t just using their phones for TikTok and listening to Doja Cat with wired headphones; earlier this year, some of them put out a call to flood the Starbucks job portal as part of a protest against the coffee giant.

Gen-Z for Change, a nonprofit organization that uses social media for social activism, claimed responsibility for more than 140,000 false applications that were submitted to Starbucks locations where the company had been accused of retaliating against employees who were attempting to unionize.

Catch me up. Gen-Z for Change also claimed responsibility for a similar action in March, after 48,000 Kroger employees went on strike. According to Teen Vogue, when Kroger tried to hire temporary workers to fill in for the workers on strike, Gen-Z for Change digital strategy associate Sean Wiggs reportedly created a website that flooded Kroger’s job portal, leading the company to remove the job postings.

Gen-Z for Change’s operations director Elise Joshi explained to Teen Vogue, “We can at least support [employees] by taking down applications that are meant to replace them.”

In a statement to Teen Vogue, Kroger said that “it was disappointing to see that these failed attempts were aimed at disrupting the community’s access to fresh food and essential items.” And while Kroger ended up taking down the job postings, a Starbucks spokesperson told Newsweek that no job postings had been taken down outside of its normal hiring processes.

Big picture. Rick McElroy, principal cybersecurity strategist at VMware, a cloud computing company, told HR Brew that these forms of protest can impact real people. “As you can imagine, if there are legitimate people applying for those positions, it would be really hard to actually figure out who’s legitimate from non-legitimate…it has an absolute cost to the organization.”

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Elise Joshi, operations director at Gen-Z for Change says that while the ensuing headaches for companies is the point of the campaign, the group collaborates with union workers on the ground. She explained to HR Brew, “With every single Starbucks job application that we add in a different location, whether that’s Memphis, or Buffalo, or Ithaca, we had explicit permission and or have been reached out to by union organizers from those locations.”

So how does a threat to large corporations impact your HR team? McElroy says that especially large organizations should understand that hacktivism exists and, “at some point, a group of people may not like all the actions that your organization does for various reasons.”

McElroy says there are a few basic things employers can do to protect their job portals, like requiring people to set up an account before they’re allowed to apply for a job and using CAPTCHA tools. He also stressed that HR, security, and IT leaders should work together to understand the threats they could potentially face. He says leaders need to ask themselves, “Are we at risk? If so, what’s the exposure and then what do we do about it?”—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

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