Facebook Pushes Back Against Employers Wanting Passwords

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2012-03-24 Print this article Print

Facebook is officially pushing back against employers who want job applicants' Facebook passwords.

Facebook, perhaps anxious to avoid public controversy as it prepares for a much-publicized initial public offering, is moving to squelch a widely reported practice of employers asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords.

€œIf 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,€ Erin Egan, Facebook€™s chief privacy officer, wrote in a March 23 note. €œAs a user, you shouldn€™t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.€

Egan also hinted at the legal repercussions: €œIf 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 €œhave the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information,€ Egan added. €œIf they don€™t€”and actually, even if they do€”the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen.€ That information may also incur certain responsibilities, such as reporting the possible commission of a crime.

Moreover, a congressional bill that would stop employers from logging into prospective employees€™ Facebook pages is apparently in the works, courtesy of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who told Politico March 21 that a piece of legislation to that effect would arrive in the near future. The political-news Website also paraphrases the senator as comparing the practice to that of polygraph tests, which are banned as a method for screening job applicants.

While it€™s impossible to tell just how many employers may have started asking applicants for access to their Facebook account, an Associated Press article from earlier in March suggested that the practice was by no means limited to a handful. It also described businesses as checking into those accounts as far back as 2006.

Millions of people use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and other social networks on a daily or even hourly basis. That sheer volume of personal information posted to the Web is a tempting target for advertisers and employers alike. However, as demonstrated by this current uproar, people are just as enthusiastic about protecting their privacy as they are about posting those photos from last weekend€™s party online.

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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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