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.
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