Facebook has recently decided to speak out against an alarming trend for privacy advocates. Employers are often requiring prospective employees to hand over their passwords before being considered for the job. Others are being required to friend their managers. Erin Egan from Facebook (Chief Privacy Officer, Policy) says “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends”.

While most users wouldn’t do this under normal circumstances, potential job employers hold the upper hand in the current job market. Robert Collins of the Baltimore area recently testified before the Maryland Legislature on the issue. He had taken a leave of absence from his corrections officer position, and was asked for his password when reapplying to negate any gang affiliations. ”I did not want to do it, but because I really needed my job and he implied that this was a condition of recertification, I reluctantly gave him the password,” he told Maryland lawmakers. Maryland is considering outlawing this growing trend.

Mr. Collins watched as his interviewer went through his postings, as well as those of his friends and family. ”We live in a time when national security is the highest priority, but it must be delicately balanced with personal privacy,” said Collins. “My fellow officers and I should not have to allow the government to view our personal Facebook posts and those of our friends, just to keep our jobs.”

If you didn’t know, Facebook has made sharing your password with others a violation of the terms of service. It reads:

“You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”

With Facebook now publicly against what amounts to a blatant violation of their users privacy, let’s hope that we see this trend die off. More states could move to make this activity illegal. If asked to share your Facebook password with your potential employer, would you do the same?

For those interested in all of what Facebook has said concerning this privacy issue, I’ve shared all of Erin Egan’s post below.

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information.  This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.  It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords.  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.

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right 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).

Facebook takes your privacy seriously.  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.

While we will continue to do our part, it is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves, and we will do our best to protect that right.

– Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy

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