Friday, March 23, 2012

Job applicants increasingly asked for Facebook login information

It's been known for some time that companies are trolling sites such as Facebook and Twitter for public posts that might prove informative about a job candidate. If you think that locking down your privacy settings is proof against that, you'd be wrong: employers are now asking applicants for their Facebook passwords as part of the interview process.

We first noticed this troubling trend back in February of last year. Robert Collins had a recertification interview with the Maryland Department of Corrections, and as part of the background check, he was asked to give up his Facebook login information. He was also forced to watch as the interviewer examined not just his posts, but his friends' and family's as well.

Since then, the Maryland DoC has modified the policy. Instead of giving them your username and password, you login and browse through posts, while they look over your shoulder, in what has been dubbed "shoulder surfing." This is hardly better.

It's not a practice that is isolated to law enforcement and other agencies where you might expect them to be more careful about potential employees. Justin Basset, a New York City statistician, recently withdrew his application with a company that, at the end of the interview, asked him for his Facebook username and password because he had locked down his Facebook privacy settings.

The ACLU, which interceded after Collins' report, has written a blog post in response to the new reports. ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said:

"It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process. People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account."

Both Maryland and Illinois are considering laws banning employers from asking for access to candidate's social profiles. However, the laws would only cover public agencies. Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Wednesday said that he's writing a federal bill to ban the practice.

Some employers ask for applicants to voluntarily give up either their passwords or allow shoulder surfing. As Blumenthal noted, however, "The coercive element of the request, really makes it less than voluntary."

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