Being Fleeced As You Find A Job? Invasion Of The Privacy-Snatchers

Some employers have begun requesting a Facebook password during the hiring process, to learn what folks who aim to find a job do on their own time. Sound spooky?

At what point would you trade the privacy of your personal life for a better chance to find a job? If you were determined to find a job and the one thing holding you back was a search of your digital haunts, would you reveal details of your personal life by sharing your Facebook password?

After all, Facebook is intended to be a personal playground for connecting, unlike the other big social media site, LinkedIn. At LinkedIn, people in job-hunt mode can carefully craft not only what they write, but also can edit what is written about them via recommendations from employers, customers and co-workers.

Justin Bassett faced this exact situation when he aimed to find a job in the government consulting field. One company in New York asked him to reveal his Facebook password, so they could do some due diligence on his social network. Is this taking it too far?

Justin Bassett thought so. He walked away from the interview process, feeling put upon and disrespected.

Rummaging around in the social network of a person who wants to find a job

Imagine sitting in an interview with a potential hiring manager and having a laptop pushed towards your hands, which are neatly folded on the table top while you try to concentrate on giving short, punchy and convincing answers. Then, the person opposite you asks you to “Go ahead, login to your facebook account,” so they can see what’s up there.

This would make most anyone feel compromised, wouldn’t it?

And yet it is happening with increasing frequency all over the country. For example, police in Madison, Wisconsin tell applicants if they seek a job, they must open up the digital equivalent of their personal shoe boxes of photos and comments.

Sgt. Mike Koval of the Madison Police Department said this for the record: “We are just looking at the appropriateness of what they reflect in the outside world.”

Facebook responds by supporting those who aim to get a job

On March 23, 2012 Facebook stated that employer demands for Facebook passwords “undermines” its strict privacy policies, and would merit “legal action” where appropriate. Facebook issued a statement saying that, “As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.”

According to Verge, even U.S. senators are feeling a sense of alarm, and getting into the act to stop the invasion of privacy. Senator Richard Blumenthal has announced that he is crafting a bill that would be presented to the legislature, that would forbid the practice of requesting a Facebook password. The precedent for this, as put forth by Senator Blumenthal, is that under current law, prospective employers may not legally force an applicant to take a polygraph test.

Connecticut’s Senator Blumenthal is working in conjunction with Charles Schumer, a Democratic senator from New York, to prod the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether companies that do search through private Facebook pages are violating U.S. laws in a way that would make them similar in some respects to “hackers.”

Other experts might argue the reverse, that is, there is sufficient protection for private companies that engage in digital background checks given the ability of applicants to walk away or turn down requests for passwords.

Not surprisingly, one long-standing champion of individual liberties, the ACLU, has also voiced its opposition to compelling applicants to reveal personal passwords. ACLU attorney Catherine Crump argued that "you’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account."

The practices of the retail giant Sears involve the willing participation of applicants that aim to find a job

On March 26, 2012, ZDNet cited reports that Sears was one of the American conglomerates that utilizes third-party apps to dig into the private details of an applicant’s own Facebook profile. This is done with the applicant’s consent insofar as the applicant would have to login voluntarily in order for the app to do the work of searching and filtering data.

By directly asking the Profile “name” and password of someone who seeks to find a job, potential employers can bypass the security controls that folks have so painstaking set up, as well as the “nicknames” and other unsearchable titles that users may have chosen.

For example, in an effort to maintain privacy in a Facebook account, Rustic Ryan may be the name of a Facebook profile—an entirely fictitious name, in fact—but one that is known to his close family, friends and acquaintances. So, is it acceptable if Mr. Ryan were to be in job-search mode, and have to compromise his own candid words and mug shots, in order to gain the favor of a firm considering hiring him? That is a tough question that is increasingly being fought over in the news media and the halls of Congress.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0, stoneysteiner

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