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Facebook Says You Shouldn’t Give Your Password To Employers Who Ask For It

There’s been an increasing and disturbing trend lately; employers and college admissions officers — unable to glean as much information as they used to from social networks now that more and more individuals are utilizing their privacy settings — have been asking applicants for their Facebook credentials, log on in front of them or give a supervisor “friends only” access. They want to be able to check out your account and look around from the the inside. Naturally there are some questions as to whether or not this is appropriate, and Facebook has decided to weigh in on the matter. Employers shouldn’t be asking for this kind of access, the social media giant says, and applicants shouldn’t be giving it to them. And it’s not just for the applicant’s benefit.

Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer puts it this way in the official Facebook statement:

If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.  We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.

As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.  And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.  That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

It’s a good point. By coming out and saying this, Facebook is really just affirming their privacy policy, affirming everyone’s privacy policy really. It’s quite hard to find anything that requires a username and password where the sharing of those credentials isn’t explicitly prohibited. Even if the process doesn’t require actually telling someone your password, it’s the same principle. After all, the only real reason to worry about someone’s social networking activity is their questionable judgment if they make everything public. Private stuff is, well, private. But aside from addressing the “user rights” perspective — like the ACLU did — Facebook has also taken the opportunity to point out how viewing an applicant’s Facebook page could be very dangerous for the employer or college.

When it comes to offering admission to a college or presenting a job offer, it’s illegal for the deciding body to discriminate based on things like sexual orientation, age, gender, race, etc. You can’t discriminate based on a characteristic if you don’t know about it, so it’s safer to not know someone’s age or sexual orientation when you’re interviewing them for something. Looking at an applicant’s Facebook page flies in the face of that logic, and can open up interviewers for all sorts of lawsuits if the applicant turns over their Facebook credentials and then doesn’t get the job.

Again, from the Facebook statement:

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do.  But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.

Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information.  If they don’t—and actually, even if they do–the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information (e.g. if the information suggests the commission of a crime).

It’s this second argument that might really put an end to the whole issue. If employers hadn’t considered this, they’ll know now. If they had considered it but just didn’t care, now the applicants know about it too. If this practice keeps up, it’s only a matter of time before someone files a ugly, costly discrimination lawsuit that starts to make it clear that the consequences far outweigh the benefits.

(Facebook via Mashable)

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