Job seekers have long dreaded certain interview questions such as “where do you see yourself in five years?” But that type of inquiry now seems fairly innocuous, considering a new question employers have been asking during interviews: “May I have your Facebook username and password?” That’s right. In addition to checking out your social profile page, some employers are now requesting full access to your social account. This new trend has alarmed many job seekers, causing many to question the ethics — and legality — of an employer probing your social life.
As social networks have grown in popularity over the last few years, it has become common knowledge that employers will often do an Internet search and review public social profiles in an effort to learn more about the potential candidate. However, requesting full access to a candidate’s accounts is a new trend that is worrisome to say the least.
Some employers will ask a candidate for their username/password, while others may request a candidate “friend” an HR manager or request they review their account on a company computer. Continuing this social media monitoring, once you get the job, some companies make employees sign contracts stating they will not disparage the company on social media.
These new policies have left many uneasy and raised concerns about the issue of privacy invasion, professional vs. private life boundaries, and even identity theft. Employers maintain they are simply vetting candidates more efficiently, particularly in certain fields such as law enforcement, security, or for public agencies. Still, the practice has not been fully condoned or accepted, and more and more candidates are facing a dilemma. Job seekers uncomfortable with giving their information out may sacrifice job opportunities that are much needed in the current economy, meaning they may be trading privacy for a paycheck.
Luckily, the issue has attracted the attention of lawmakers. Both Illinois and Maryland have proposed legislation that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks. And at the federal level, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal have requested further investigation by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries – why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?” Schumer said in statement.
Requesting private passwords as an employment requirement may violate the Stored Communications Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, making leaders eager to examine the issue more closely.
In response to this action, last week Facebook also addressed the issue. “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. While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users,” the social networking platform said in a statement.
In the absence of legislation protecting potential employees from this specific practice, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to comply. In general, sharing usernames and passwords can be a very dangerous practice. Whether or not you plan to acquiesce to an employer’s request, it’s always a good idea to review and “clean” your profile by removing messages, photos, or content that might be inappropriate. You may also want to change your password (if you happen to use the same password for other things like online banking or email).