Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:00 pm
SEATTLE (AP) — When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.
Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.
Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.
In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.
"It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it "an egregious privacy violation."
Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.
Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.
Companies that don't ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.
Asking for a candidate's password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.
Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.
"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled,
After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.
"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland's legislation.
Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.
And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff's office has been one of several Illinois sheriff's departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.
Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that "speaks well of the people we have apply."
When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said "it depends on the situation" but could include "inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior."
In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff's department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.
"In the past, we've talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends," said Capt. Mike Harvey. "Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them."
Harvey said investigators look for any "derogatory" behavior that could damage the agency's reputation.
E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide," said job seekers should always be aware of what's on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.
Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it's not a violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she's not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.
"I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you're dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site," she said.
More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.
Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.
Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant's work history.
The company assumes "that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently," she said.
Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.
The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.
But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.
"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.
In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.
"I think asking for account login credentials is regressive," he said. "If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can't afford to stand up for your belief."
Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:22 pm
Rosso Rose wrote:WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT!?!?!
Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:13 pm
Tue Mar 20, 2012 8:40 pm
Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:55 pm
Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:14 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:22 am
Mirak wrote:It's curious how that article rephrased something i said to a potential boss, i went looking for a job last week and the guy who was going to hire me tried to pull that shit off too, weird thing is that i told him "fine, can i have a copy of your house's key's too?", i can't believe the guy ha the nerve to act insulted when he basically asked the same from me.
Thu Mar 22, 2012 10:41 am
Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:51 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 7:49 pm
Grey wrote:hi my name's dorian and rather than contribute to the conversation i'm just gonna shit all over what someone said because i'm soooooo cynical and blahblahalwaysrightblah.
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:00 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:09 pm
Dorian wrote:Guess what happened after that? Nothing.
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:18 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:20 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:22 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:30 pm
Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:43 pm
Mathias wrote:There's a former member who went to such great lengths to delete every trace of himself from the Internet so that employers wouldn't trace him.
Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:02 pm
Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:03 pm
Sat Mar 31, 2012 10:44 am
House Republicans on Wednesday defeated an amendment that would have banned current or prospective employers from requiring workers to hand over personal passwords as a condition of keeping or getting a new job.
"What this amendment does is it says that you cannot demand, as a condition of employment, that somebody reveal a confidential password to their Facebook, to their Flickr, to their Twitter, whatever their account may be," Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the Colorado Democrat who authored the amendment, said during a Wednesday floor speech.
The amendment, however, which was added to a larger FCC reform package, was defeated this afternoon by a vote of 236 to 185. It was largely split down party lines, with 183 Democrats voting in favor of the amendment and 234 Republicans voting against it.
The issue made headlines recently when it was reported that some employers were asking workers or applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords or allow employers to look over their shoulders as they clicked through their accounts. The publicity over the issue prompted Facebook to step up and say the practice was against its terms of service.
In an interview with PCMag today, Fred Wolens, Facebook's public policy manager, said the company opted to make a public statement because "there were a lot of questions and implications that I'm not sure employers were considering when engaging in these practices."
Chief among them, he said, was the fact that by signing into an employee's Facebook account, employers were not only gaining access to their worker's account but the accounts of friends who showed up on the newsfeed.
"You're very fundamentally breaking the privacy of not just [your employee] but their friends," Wolens said.
There's also a liability issue, he continued. A Facebook profile might contain information about disability or pregnancy status, which could open a company up to employee discrimination suits.
"We give users control [over their information], and when you give away your password, it fundamentally changes your relationship with Facebook," Wolens said. "Employers would not ask people for their email passwords or bank account statement, and I think the implications are very similar, if not the same, to peoples' Facebook passwords."
Late last week, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal asked the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate whether employee password requests violate federal law. Wolens said today that Facebook looks forward "to engaging with lawmakers on this issue."
Rep. Perlmutter suggested that employers don't need access to Facebook accounts. Traditional means of checking references and doing background checks are sufficient, he said today. They can "do it as themselves - not as imposters," he said.
But for today, at least, the issue will not be resolved in Congress. As noted by TechCrunch, Republicans were not convinced the amendment was necessary, but said they would be open to addressing the issue in separate legislation.
Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:58 am
Tue May 22, 2012 2:58 am
That's the WHOLE amendment.MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS ON PASSWORDS
MOTION TO RECOMMIT WITH INSTRUCTIONS
M_. ______ of _______ moves to
recommit the bill, H.R. 3309, to the Committee on Energy
and Commerce with instructions to report the same
back to the House forthwith with the following amendment:
Page 23, after line 5, insert the following:
1 SEC. 5. PROTECTING THE PASSWORDS OF ONLINE USERS.
2 Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this
3 Act shall be construed to limit or restrict the ability of
4 the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a rule
5 or to amend an existing rule to protect online privacy, in-
6 cluding requirements in such rule that prohibit licensees
7 or regulated entities from mandating that job applicants
8 or employees disclose confidential passwords to social net
9 working web sites.
Greg Walden wrote:I think it’s awful that employers think they can demand our passwords and can go snooping around. There is no disagreement with that. Here is the flaw: Your amendment doesn’t protect them. It doesn’t do that. Actually, what this amendment does is say that all of the reforms that we are trying to put in place at the Federal Communications Commission, in order to have them have an open and transparent process where they are required to publish their rules in advance so that you can see what they’re proposing, would basically be shoved aside. They could do whatever they wanted on privacy if they wanted to, and you wouldn’t know it until they published their text afterward. There is no protection here.
Tue May 22, 2012 3:14 pm
Tue May 22, 2012 5:20 pm
Tue May 22, 2012 9:14 pm