You need this job badly, and you want to be the best candidate for the position. If so, you will try to please your potential manager and other interviewers, who have a decision making power. However, how far you are ready to go in the process of collaboration?
Recently there have been several reports in the press about job candidates being asked for their Facebook login password by prospective employers. Before they began asking for log in information flat out, employers have long researched the backgrounds of potential job candidates by conducting simple searches for public information on internet search engines. Social Intelligence Corporation, for example, specializes in “credit checks” of job applicants’ social media activity by combing the internet and gathering publicly shared information for an employer’s review. A 2010 survey done by Microsoft Research revealed that 70% of employers have ruled out applicants based on public information they found online.
Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. Becoming aware of these practices, social media users started heightening their privacy settings, excluding access to their private information, posts, photos, and other details to the public. Therefore, to get legal access to this information, employer still needs for the perspective employee’ login data.
Some companies do not ask directly for passwords, but may try other ways to get behind the locked profiles such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers even have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.
Facebook, which often finds itself the subject of attack regarding privacy concerns, has sided with users on this issue, proclaiming that users “shouldn’t be forced to share private information and communications just to get a job.” Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, states that such requests are a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and that the requests could even lead to legal liability on the part of the employer.
Profiles provide a plethora of personal information such as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. All these details are protected by federal employment law, which prohibits employers from asking questions about them during an interview. Allowing employers access to one’s Facebook profile therefore allows them access to information otherwise prohibited from consideration. It is this exposure to protected information that Facebook warns may make employers vulnerable to litigation. For example, if an employer discovered that an applicant was a member of a protected group and refused to hire that employee for those reasons, the employer may be subject to discrimination claims.
Additionally, the practice may violate federal statutes relating to unauthorized access to computers and electronically stored information. The Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) “prohibit intentional access to electronic information without authorization, and prohibit intentional access to a computer, without authorization, to obtain information,” respectively. Congress has now become involved to ensure that requesting Facebook credentials does not violate these Acts. Although applicants would appear to be providing their log in information “voluntarily,” Senators Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal have questioned whether the practice is unduly coercive and therefore considered unauthorized access. The two senators are calling for investigations by the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and plan to file a bill that would fill in any gaps not covered by current law.
State governments are also taking action. California Democratic Sen. Leland Yee introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants and current employees for their social media log in information. The state bill would also prohibit employers’ from requiring access to social media content, thereby barring requests for printouts of that content.
While it is nice to know that Facebook and Senators on your side, you still need this job! While the legal prosecution for this unethical practice has not been introduced yet, what should you do if you are asked for access to private information?
Attorney Vincent Antoniello at the Resnick Law Group suggests that you "just say no." He adds "you don’t want to work there anyway." You certainly can politely decline to provide that information and hope you are selected anyway. Employers, of course, have the right to choose someone else, which is the likely outcome if you do not handle your unwillingness to provide that information tactfully.
Most career experts suggest that, instead of simply refusing to provide your Facebook password, you offer other ways to obtain the legitimate information that the employer might be seeking. For example, Ms. Calo suggests that you ask "if there’s anything specific that you would be looking for if you were to search my Facebook account? I would welcome the opportunity to have an open discussion now about any reservations you might have for hiring me based on those criteria."
Jeremy Goldman, AVP Interactive at iluminage Inc., cautions not to "appear to be obstructionist or that you’re hiding anything." He suggests that you "offer to show your prospective employer the ‘public view’ of your profile" and explain how you use Facebook to share "specific information with specific groups of contacts, demonstrating that you’re savvier about Facebook usage than most, and as such can be a benefit to the new company." You might add that your Facebook password is the same one you use for your bank accounts and credit cards and disclosing it exposes you to the risk that it accidentally gets into the wrong hands.
Duncan Ferguson, managing director of leadership development at HR Consulting firm BPI Group, also suggests offering them an alternative source of relevant information such as your LinkedIn profile or your Facebook-linked professional profiles on Branchout or BeKnown. He notes "LinkedIn has become so integral to the recruiting process that most hiring managers would find that answer acceptable."
Management consultant Sally Mounts, president of Auctus Consulting Group, suggests that, after noting your concerns about privacy, indicate willingness to compromise. For example, you could say "If you tell me that I am the prime candidate for this position, I would be willing to reconsider my stand." This puts "the onus back on the interviewer, who should never have made the request to begin with" and it avoids "giving out private information unless there is a real benefit" to doing so.
If an interviewer insists that you provide your Facebook password, you need to really consider whether this is a company where you want to work. As Ferguson notes, "Every interaction with a company during the interview process is a window to the company culture. Asking for Facebook passwords should raise at least a yellow flag that trust might not be part of their culture."
Always bear in mind that what you put up on the internet, no matter how much you attempt to keep it private, may become public, say, by way of a friend.
Some of you will say “I have nothing to hide anyway”. I can say the same – I do not keep any dangerous pictures or posts in my social media accounts. But… it is just wrong. Think twice if you want to spend most of your daily life in the environment where this unhealthy practice flourishes.
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Update 04-11-12: Today, the Maryland General Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting employers in the state from asking current and prospective employees for their user names and passwords to websites such as Facebook and Twitter.