Claim Check: Employers Asking for Facebook Passwords

by Categorized: Claim Check, Media Date:

“More often, employers asking job seekers for Facebook passwords” – Austin American-Statesman

A week ago, the Associated Press created Internet pandemonium with a report that companies were asking prospective employees to fork over their Facebook passwords as part of the job application process. The story, repeated by countless news outlets and splashed on thousands of websites, brought swift and harsh reaction. Job seekers flocked to the Internet to proclaim the unprintable response they would provide to such a request. Facebook hinted at legal action. The ACLU chimed in. State legislators raced to draft bills banning the practice. And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined his New York colleague Charles Schumer in asking the Department of Justice to investigate.

“It is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers,” Schumer declared.

But how real is the phenomenon?

The original AP story cited a single case of an unnamed private company that requested an applicant’s password. Beyond that anecdote, all of the examples related either to jobs in the narrow field of law-enforcement – where more-invasive background checks are common – or to practices less egregious than demanding a password (though still objectionable to many), such as reports that applicants were asked to “friend” a manager or to log on to their accounts during an interview. No companies were named.

Some of the examples in the story revolved around public agencies that had stopped asking applicants for passwords. Maryland prison officials had in the past requested Facebook passwords, but abandoned the practice after a complaint by the ACLU, according to the AP report. Likewise, three years ago, officials in Bozeman, Mont. stopped asking applicants to supply social-media passwords.

Nevertheless, several news outlets played the story with the suggestion that the practice was becoming increasingly common. “More employers are requiring applicants to submit their Facebook password as part of the application process,” NPR reported.

“A growing number of employers will request your Facebook password so they can delve into your personal life,” was the takeaway from KABC in Los Angeles.

But that’s not what the story said. And the author of the piece says he wasn’t claiming even that the practice was widespread.

To research the article, lead writer Manuel Valdes turned to Reddit, a popular Internet gathering spot. “I’ve seen several posts here of people taking pictures of job applications that ask for log-in information for Facebook, MySpace or other social networking sites,” Valdes wrote about a month ago. “Are you one of them?”

The request generated more than 1,700 comments, although the vast majority were merely commenting on the practice. Among the few directly on point, about 10 posters said they had been asked to provide access to their Facebook accounts when applying for jobs as police officers or correction officers. Fewer still said private companies had made similar requests, and Valdes typically asked them to email him. But it appears that few if any of those claims ultimately made it into the AP’s report.

“My sense is that this happens in many private companies, but it doesn’t seem to be widespread,” Valdes told me in an email, noting that in his original post on Reddit, he indicated he was interested in writing about the phenomenon “even if it’s isolated.”

Is it more than isolated? There is a small but persuasive number of reports of police agencies insisting on reviewing social-media pages as part an extensive pre-employment check. “The practice seems more prevalent among public agencies, such as law enforcement and 911 dispatchers,” Valdes acknowledged. In many of those cases, of course, applicants are also subjected to a full-on psychological evaluation.

Beyond that, there is little to suggest that typical employers are bearing down on applicants to open up their Facebook pages. Even with the vast crowd-sourcing power of the Internet, it’s not clear that anyone has outed a single private employer engaging in password-grabbing. But as Valdes’ report ricocheted around the Web, his anecdote morphed into a trend, and the trend became a growing trend, and overnight, an Internet/media monster was born.

Blumenthal, who intends to draft federal legislation in addition to his calls for an investigation, says he’s heard complaints about employers from constituents. He isn’t naming names, but the senator recently told the web site Politico that the password phenomenon appears to be “spreading voraciously around the country.”

“Spreading voraciously?” In the private sector, anyway, Claim Check is still waiting for the evidence.

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15 thoughts on “Claim Check: Employers Asking for Facebook Passwords

  1. Scott

    If you have nothing to hide then give them your information. I would and I am as liberal as the next guy, but when the job market is tough right now, I would do anything to get that job. People must be hiding something on their facebook or emabarassed about some sort of picture that was posted.

    1. Keith

      So if the employer asked you to fork over the password to your bank account so they can go through it, are you saying you would do this too? I dont believe any person should be forced to fork over passwords to any type of personal account as part of a job application! Whether you have something to hide or not, what business is it of anyone else! We have laws in place protecting our right to privacy and any employeer that is trying to go around those laws should face criminal penalties!

    2. WO

      While the “if you’ve got nothing to hide” has a lot wrong going for it, think about this. If we are friends on facebook, I am giving YOU access to MY personal life, not to your potential employer, or anyone else. By giving them access to your account, you open up all of your friends sharing with them as well. That breaks the “trust” between you.

      …just my 2 beans

    3. nikkinala

      It’s reasonable to expect that FB will contain answers to questions that employers are legally prohibited from asking, such as an applicant’s age, religion, or sexual orientation. It’s not that the applicant has something to hide, it’s that the employer is essentially requesting access to info that is legally irrelevant to the hiring decision.

  2. Sarah

    According to the ACLU, they didn’t abandon the practice – they made it “voluntary.” Not sure I’d give them a pass on that.

  3. Cole Cooper

    What about the privacy rights of college students? This is from an story:

    Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to “friend” a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.
    Follow @RedTapeChron

    A recent revision in the handbook at the University of North Carolina is typical:

    “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings,” it reads. “The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”

  4. Conscience of a Conservative

    This is not a new story. It’s been reported on for some time, and how is this considered reasonable , permissible and not an encroachment on personal liberties or freedom of expression. A company is not permitted to look in my diary or examine my bank account. Now if they want to troll the web to look up my name, fine, but this goes beyond that.

  5. Green

    Would you allow your employer to open your mail before you get it? This practice is illegal for a reason.

    Asking for access to someone’s private messages on facebook is essentially the same thing in my opinion.

  6. DONO

    Giving this info to a POTENTIAL employee is completely ridiculous. I’d request they share their 5 year forecasting plan and executive compensation schedules in return. What? Do they have something to hide from me?

    Perhaps I should disrobe in front of them. It’s ok, unless I’m ashamed of something or have something to hide…

    Make my coach/the administration my “friend” and share all the details I do with my other inner-circle “friends”. They’re not my friends. They’re my keepers. I’m not required to let them listen to my phone calls, so why should I be required to let them into any other correspondence.

    Basically, this is DOA. All it will do is drive people to another form of communication, one that is or gets protected, and will ultimately hurt a company like FB or Google, so you can expect their billions to put and end to it right away… either through lawyering up or political pressure (contributions)


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