It’s one thing to dissect what a prospective employee holds out online for viewing on Facebook but another thing entirely to request a person’s login and password information as a precondition of empoyment. Yet multiple reports reveal that employers have asked (or demanded) that information of candidates. Facebook has acknowledged the quandary and isn’t happy to be involved. “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends,” Facebook’s privacy officer Erin Egan wrote recently. “It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.”
In response, Senators Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut began a charge today toward Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether the practice is a violation of federal law.
Senator Schumer is quoted in the senators’ release, in part:
“Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries – why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?” said Schumer. “In an age where more and more of our personal information – and our private social interactions – are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence. Before this disturbing practice becomes widespread, we must have an immediate investigation into whether the practice violates federal law – I’m confident the investigation will show it does. Facebook agrees, and I’m sure most Americans agree, that employers have no business asking for your Facebook password.
The senators will certainly have the support of the Facebook in this battle. Egan went further to assert Facebook’s willingness to enforce its rights and those of its users (i.e., its product): “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”
The line is clear. Many young people use Facebook in lieu of e-mail services like Yahoo and Gmail. If prospective employers can lawfully demand access to personal messages and business conducted through Facebook, what’s next? May they peruse private Twitter lists that include some undesirables? What about access to (soon-to-be-prohibited) pro-anorexia “Thinspiration” boards on Pinterest?
In any case, students would be wise to scrub their profiles of profanity, immaturity, and unflattering pictures. And that includes photos of the miserable “duck face.”