Would You Give Employers Your Facebook Password?

A new practice has employers asking job candidates for private information

23 March 2012

If the comments to our recent post “Are Engineers Really in Demand?" are any indication, it’s still tough for many to find a job these days. So when a candidate scores an interview, it’s likely he or she would do just about anything to land the job. But just how far would you be willing to go?

Picture this: you’re at the interview, and you’ve done all you can to prove you’ve got the experience and skills for the position. You feel you’ve answered the interviewer’s questions pretty well and are feeling good about your chances. Then, out of nowhere, you’re asked for your Facebook password. Why? The interviewer would like to take a look at all your personal messages, photos, wall posts, who your friends are, and more. Sounds like a gross invasion of privacy, doesn’t it? Well that’s exactly what some employers are doing lately, according to several media reports.

It’s no secret that employers frequently look up job candidates’ social media profiles, which we reported on in January 2010 in “Beware: Recruiters Are Screening You On Your Social Network Profiles.” And a recent blog post on the IEEE Computer Society’s website says that one in five candidates are nixed because of concerns with their social media profiles.

But until now it’s been easy to ensure prospective employers don’t judge you based on your profiles. It’s pretty simple to prevent access by managing your privacy settings. For example, on Facebook you can make your information only visible to your friends. But with employers now asking for passwords, there’s little anyone can do other than to just say no—and risk not getting the job.

According to an article in the Star Tribune, some companies are trying other ways to invade candidates’ privacy. They’re asking job applicants to “friend” human resource managers or to log in to their accounts during the interview to give a guided tour of their social media profiles.

I find these practices downright scary. Even if you have nothing to hide on your social media profile, in my opinion this is going way too far. What will employers ask for next? Our bank account logins to examine our spending habits? Shouldn’t job applicants be judged on their experience and skills? Certainly character is important, but what do photos of someone hanging out with friends at a bar on a Saturday night have to do with whether the person can do the job during the work week? The sad part is that with so many engineers out of work, many will wind up giving away their privacy rights in order to get a job. Because I’m not in their shoes, I can’t say for sure what I would do.

Thankfully, on 23 March, Facebook responded with a warning to employers using the invasive practice, after receiving a “distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information,” writes Erin Egan, the company’s chief privacy officer, on the site’s privacy page. “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends.” Egan goes on to issue a warning to those who violate users’ privacy: “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."

What do you think about these practices? Would you give an employer your Facebook password? Let us know in the comments below.  

Photo: iStockphoto

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