Say No to Schools and Would-Be Employers Who Ask for Facebook Passwords

An unfortunate new anti-privacy trend has emerged where some employers – including government agencies, colleges and K-12 schools – have begun to ask applicants and students to provide their Facebook login information. 

While the interest by schools, government agencies and employers is understandable, it is unacceptable. It is a gross infringement on your or your child’s privacy. It is certainly against the terms of use of Facebook. And it may be illegal.

Facebook’s terms of use require that You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else.” Presumably this means that anyone who asks an applicant or student for login information should be reported and kicked off the service.

More severe, however, is the invasion of privacy resulting in deliberate and very specific trampling of your civil liberties.

It was through hard-fought battles in the 20th century that we gained a number of civil rights designed to protect every citizen from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, color, national origin, age, marital or family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, financial status and more. These prejudices have not vanished.

When organizations, companies, government agencies, colleges and K-12 schools request access to Facebook accounts to look for reasons not to hire or accept an applicant, it is easy to discover information that is illegal to inquire about. Similarly, when schools want to identify which students were involved in an incident, demanding their Facebook passwords is akin to trampling their right to be protected from self-incrimination.

Just how damaging could your Facebook information be?

The answer, of course,  depends on the information you have online. However, to give some insight into the way recruiters think about content they find online, look at the data uncovered by Microsoft through research on the expanding role of online reputation in January 2010.  One aspect of the research looked specifically at how recruiters and HR professionals use online information in their candidate screening process.  Fully 70% of recruiters in the United States said they had rejected candidates based on data they found online – and that was before they had full access to private Facebook accounts. 

So what are your options?

Being asked by a would-be employer for your Facebook account information presents a very difficult dilemma. Saying no to a would-be employer may cost you the job, yet saying yes to the would-be employer may also cost you the job.

This leaves you with a few options:

  • You may decide you don’t want to work for a company or go to a school that blatantly tramples your privacy in their interview.
  • You can empty your Facebook account of anything that in any way could ever be detrimental to you – including showing any information covered by civil liberty laws – though of course this takes away the relevance of most people’s Facebook accounts.
  • You can delete your account entirely; though remember that saying you deleted it without actually doing so means you lied during your interview – reason enough for termination or denial.
  • Consider responding by saying that in your Facebook account there is a great deal of information it would be illegal for the requester to ask based on civil liberty laws. So, to protect the asker and yourself, you will be happy to honestly answer any questions they have rather than place them at risk of violating the law.
  • Prepare another answer in advance of any interview so you aren’t caught off guard and at a disadvantage.



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