Toops Scoops: Facebook Faceoff Pits Employers Against Job Seekers

For many reasons, I've been seriously thinking lately of killing my Facebook account.

Like many, I'm not crazy about the timeline concept. And I admit it can be a time suck and an engine for either envy or Schadenfraude.

But another reason is the latest privacy outrage: potential employers asking job applicants for their actual Facebook user passwords.

Yes, it's come to that.

I don't have a personal interest in this. I'm not looking for another job, nor do I have anything to hide on my boring FB page. The worst I've been up to there are snarky comments to friends, song quotes, repurposed Onion articles and some pretty unflattering pictures (none involving beer, bongs or bikinis, thank God for the viewer).

Facebook isn't LinkedIn. I don't go there to connect with anyone on a professional level. And although I do enjoy finding and keeping up with far-flung family and acquaintences, I'm certainly not one of those extremists who claim they'd give up coffee, sleep, sex or "Mad Men" before giving up Facebook.

It's common knowledge that employers, schools and other authorities Google and check out applicants on Facebook -- and I think that's well within their right. The latest practice, however, crosses the line.

Although it's hard to get a bead on how prevalent the practice is, some private businesses and government entities (especially municipalities hiring police or other security employees) are asking job applicants for Facebook passwords or otherwise accessing their activities through third-party vendors.

And in hard times like these, what job applicant is in a position to tell them to bugger off?

It's even unclear whether it's legal. From the original March 20 AP story:

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.

 

Two states, Illinois and Maryland, have introduced legislation prohibiting the practice, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is currently writing a bill doing the same on the federal level.

And just today, Facebook came out publicly against the practice:

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.  

 

AA&B's legal columnist Barry Zalma says that the practice is "probably" legal, as long as it's not a condition of employment. But it seems to me that the practice is an open invitation to some massive EPL lawsuits -- not to mention a major deterrent to hiring good employees.

About the Author
Laura Mazzuca Toops, PropertyCasualty360.com

Laura Mazzuca Toops, PropertyCasualty360.com

Laura Mazzuca Toops, National Underwriter Property & Casualty executive managing editor, is responsible for the Agent & Broker channel for PropertyCasualty360.com. Her more than 20 years of property & casualty insurance experience includes associate editor at Business Insurance, Midwest managing editor with Insurance Journal, and freelance work for insurers, brokers and trade associations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. She may be reached at ltoops@SummitProNets.com

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