Marketing Director

Invasions of Privacy: Facebook Employee Passwords

You're in a job interview; nervous and optimistic, when suddenly you are asked to hand over your personal phonebook, diary, scrapbook and family correspondance....

It's not quite like that. What people are being asked for is their Facebook login and password. This is an invasion of privacy. Job candidates and existing employees are put in a very compromising position when they are first asked. According to UK employment lawyers cited in the Telegraph prospective employees being asked for their usernames and passwords isn't illegal.
I think it’s very dangerous and unnecessary to start asking people for access into their personal lives. Once you start asking people to reveal everything about themselves, which is irrelevant to their ability to be able to do a job, you are getting into a tricky area. It’s the equivalent of getting people to spy on prospective staff down at the pub before hiring them. It’s also quite a lazy way by bosses to get a full picture of somebody and shows that their interviewing process is unsatisfactory.” 
- Sarah Veale, Head of Equality and Employment Rights, Trades Union Congress.
It's a quagmire for both employees and their employers. Both groups should be most concerned with
what can be seen by others on the Facebook page. A simple Facebook search can help with that. Organizations shouldn't be asking employees for this information unless it pertains directly to the job or the employee has/is publicly bashing employers past, present or future. What matters is:
  1. Is the employee publicly connected to the organization?
  2. Does the employee talk about specific work related business on Facebook where others can read it?
  3. Does the use of Facebook effect the relationship between the employee and their work?
Saying yes to each item makes what is done publicly matter to the organization and for good reason.  Organizations are overreaching requesting administrative access yet potential and existing employees are not getting hired and losing their jobs. Facebook has chimed in on the topic and in no uncertain terms says that it doesn't support this practice:
"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 incidents 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."
In the United States spotlight grabbing politicians are pushing the Feds to investigate this issue. Some originally insinuated that Facebook would take legal action against employers who asked for logins and passwords. This was recently rebuffed by Facebook. According to some less sensational reports the practice is pretty rare, for now. In Canada the practice may be even rarer as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits this type of request based on discrimination. According to the Spec:
"There is no law that particularly prohibits an employer from asking for that password. It does not specifically violate any privacy legislation. But, by asking that question, employers expose themselves to complaints of discrimination under human rights legislation. 
Both the Ontario and Canada human rights legislation prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of, among other things, race, ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, age, family status, marital status or handicap. That’s a long list of things you wouldn’t usually learn during a job interview. It is contrary to human rights legislation to ask questions with respect to these issues." -
I will soon be publishing a case study I worked on recently where an employee was fired for what they posted on Facebook. The dismissal was supported by a ruling by an outside arbitrator. Asking for your Facebook login and password is a preventative measure in the minds of some of those who ask, but surely over steps the bounds of human rights and common decency.  Would you want to work for an organization that demanded your login and password for Facebook?

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