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Breaking: Facebook Fights Back Against Employers Seeking Passwords

It is not surprising that Facebook would take a hard line against employers (and potential employers) who are seeking passwords from people’s Facebook accounts.  We blogged about it here a few days ago.

If this trend grows (or at least has that perception), many people may stop using Facebook altogether which would (naturally) not be good for Facebook.  Legally, there is not a whole lot Facebook could do at this juncture because they would not have standing to sue these (potential) employers.  For now, a strongly worded statement will have to suffice.

We have the statement from Erin Egan (which was released this morning) below.

In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information.  This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.  It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords.  If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.  We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.

As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job.  And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.  That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do.  But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person. 

Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information.  If they don’t—and actually, even if they do–the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information (e.g. if the information suggests the commission of a crime).

Facebook takes your privacy seriously.  We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.

While we will continue to do our part, it is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves, and we will do our best to protect that right.

— Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy

(Emphasis is mine)

Facebook does bring up an interesting point that has not been brought out much to this point and I think will be what ultimately ends this practice.  There are strict laws regarding hiring based upon age, etc.  By viewing a Facebook profile, you learn personal information about the candidate/employee that could open the viewer to claims of discrimination.  For instance, most companies have policies against asking interviewees for their marital status, age, etc. for good reason.

We will continue to monitor this situation.  For businesses, it is important to understand the ramifications of these actions and protect yourselves accordingly (or end the practice).

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