What to do if a Job Interviewer asks for Your Facebook Password

A new controversy has the business world a-buzz. It has to do with Facebook, and the fact that some employers are asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.

Megan Garber, writing for The Atlantic, reports that “Apparently, for the 95 percent of employers who use social media sites to glean information about job candidates, the intelligence available for public perusal is no longer enough. Prospective employers now want to see inside your profiles.”

A Maryland man who was forced to reveal his Facebook password during an interview with the state’s Department of Corrections has sued, and the ACLU will be arguing on his behalf. And then there’s the New York statistician who walked out of an interview after he was asked to provide his Facebook password. These cases aren’t mere anomalies, notes Garber. This is happening more and more frequently.

The practice is being met with outrage and widespread disapproval. “It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” says George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr. (NOTE:  Facebook has since changed its policies.)

The fact that some companies feel free to ask for passwords demonstrates how deep the divide can be between people’s conceptions of online privacy:  Garber notes that common standards about what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to online privacy have yet to solidify in the social environment that Facebook and other networks provide.

“Employers are asking for applicant passwords — in part — because those applicants have availed themselves of social media sites’ privacy features,” writes Garber. Savvy interviewees have made their profiles viewable only to friends and family; employers, who have gotten used to social media recon as an integral aspect of the hiring process, are looking for ways to reclaim the insights those profiles can provide.”

The problem has become widespread enough that lawmakers are proposing legislation to fight against it. In Maryland, House Bill 364 (pdf), proposed in January 2012, would prevent employers from discriminating against job applicants who refuse to provide access to their social media profiles. In Illinois, House Bill 3782, introduced in early March 2012, would do the same. Protections like these, if they’re passed into law, will likely prove important — not just for job-seekers and their online connections, but for the everyday privacy standards that are solidifying as Facebook and its fellow networks make their way from an innovation to a way of life.

Thanks to Facebook’s policy change you now have an easy answer if anyone ever asks for your Facebook password: “I’m sorry, that would violate my user agreement.” And then, we recommend that you seriously reconsider whether you would want to work anywhere that would even ask.

Read More here.

5 Responses

  1. While this is certainly a radical idea that I’m sure a lot of people will object to–I’m hoping this is the exception and not the norm among employers. For higher level jobs in security and government I can see how an employee’s online activities might be of concern, but for for the majority of jobs I just don’t see why employers need to know this…or even care.

  2. Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for your comment.
    Personally, I agree that our Facebooks should be personal and irrelevant to the job search. What you put on Facebook is not a good predictor of your work ethic on the job.
    The sad truth is, employers (in all industries) do care. Many employers think they can judge us based on what we post online. For example, photos with alcohol look terrible to a potential employer – employers assume you are lazy, and will party all the time instead of focusing on your job.
    Are the employers right to pre-judge us that way? I don’t know… but it’s something all jobseekers should be aware is happening.

  3. As an HR professional, I understand there are certain questions that can land you in legal hot water. If I were applying for a job and someone requested my Facebook password, or a printout of my activity, they are asking for trouble. What if I were a jewish, diabetic alcoholic that walked with a cane and I eluded to all this on my Facebook page? Sounds like the makings of a solid discrimination lawsuit.

  4. I agree with those above. It’s a legal minefield that I’m frankly surprised a company would want to risk entering, not to mention a violation of the EULA. Asking for my Facebook password is also an unwarranted invasion of privacy. I’m afraid that if I were asked for my Facebook password, I would also politely decline and leave. Just the fact that they asked for it tells me more about the employer than they understand.
    OTOH, I make a point of not talking about my employer on social media, to the point where I don’t even post where I work online.

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