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The Facebook Privacy Issue Is Heading to Capitol Hill

The cherry blossoms are a-blooming, and that means it’s time for a Washington, D.C.-related post, following the inner workings of the sausage factory we call the government. And in this case, it finally doesn’t involve transvaginal probing! No, this is an update to a story we brought you yesterday, concerning the issue of employers asking potential hires for their Facebook usernames and passwords. We briefly mentioned that one U.S. senator was introducing federal legislation to stop that, and now another has joined him. Which leads us to ask: “So, what do you think Chuck Schumer is really trying to hide on his Facebook profile, you guys?”

Indeed, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has joined Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal in digging deeper into recent stories about companies invading the privacy of people they might hire. As we told you, this has started happening more and more: someone conducting a job interview visits the interviewee’s Facebook page (to see what they do in their spare time, like drink alcohol, use swear words, molest children, shoot people, etc.) and if the profile is set to private — meaning that no one can see it while merely browsing the internet — the person is asked to either log in to their profile so the interviewer can see it or hand over their login information. This practice, which is against Facebook’s terms of service to begin with, prompted lawmakers in Maryland to propose laws on the state level to block companies from doing this.

Blumenthal had already started looking into this on the national level. A former state attorney general, he believes that the practice is an “unreasonable invasion of privacy” and might have a draft of a bill “soon.” He says that besides it being downright snoopy, it’s just unfair to make someone in the vulnerable position of looking for employment turn over information to their private profile. Some people have reported being asked for their passwords for email, not just social networks. And since making a potential employee take a polygraph test is also illegal, Blumenthal believes that asking for login information to seek information that isn’t publicly available is just as unfair. And, while we won’t put words in the Senator’s mouth, awful.

And now, Blumenthal and Schumer are asking the Department of Justice and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to begin an investigation into whether this practice actually violates federal law; if it only vaguely does, or if a solid interpretation isn’t really present, they will work together to draft a law to make it cut-and-dry.

As of right now, the most that can happen is a lawsuit by Facebook, if that’s the login information that is being requested. Facebook has made the threat, but is not actively pursuing any companies. Ars Technica also points out that these complaints were made in 2009 and 2010, and one of the companies has stopped asking people for their information. (Another still asks for people to “volunteer” their information, leaving them in the awkward position of saying “Yes, go ahead and root around my private Facebook page” or “No, my Facebook page is private,” which will inevitably be heard by a job interviewer as “No, there is something I don’t want you to see while I’m trying to apply for a job. For reasons.”)

So, first comes the investigation, then comes the law. Maybe. But at least we know that lawmakers are working on something that actually protects our privacy for a change …

(via Ars Technica)

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  • Nazaniel

    I realise that I’m preaching to the choir here to some extent, but did you realise that you wrote an article that as in favour of protecting people’s privacy that also asks in the first paragraph “what is he trying to hide?”  I know that it was probably meant as a joke, but some people really believe that the only people that care about their privacy are the ones with “something to hide”, and that viewpoint is one that does serious damage to every individual’s right to privacy.  

    Putting it in an article like this makes it sound like it’s a legitimate question whenever someone objects to their privacy being invaded, and I don’t think that’s what you were trying to say in the rest of the article.

  • Dazee

    So, with asking this, it’s only fair for the interviewer to let the interviewee have their log in information/snoop around their Facebook while logged in as well, right. Right?

    Everyday I’m more and more tempted to just delete (as much as they’ll let me) my FB account. People really want to get in touch with me, they can message me on MySpace. “But no one uses MySpace anymore!” Exactly! 

  • Anonymous

    The bigger problem (though it’s a biggie already) is that by giving some corporate jerk access to my Fb page I’m letting him know which of my friends is gay, which likes to party a bit too much and which had a baby a month ago. It’s not just ME that gets their privacy trampled, it’s everyone on my friends list who allows me to read their updates. I guess it depends on the law in each country, but I imagine it could be possible for the friends of the interviewee to collectively sue such company for invading their privacy.

  • Jessica Quest

    What a crazy situation lol. Have you guys checked out ? It’s another social network, but I think it’s new.