Employer requesting Facebook login info raises privacy concerns

The Right Click

It's no secret that many of today's employers review social media activity in order to probe the personal lives of prospective employees. The practice has nearly reinvented the standard background check, and companies such as Social Intelligence provide this very service to employers looking for in-depth assistance.

"All we assemble is what is publicly available on the Internet today," said Max Drucker, chief executive of Social Intelligence in The New York Times.

But a recent report from The Globe and Mail has revealed what one employer resorted to when the social information wasn't made publicly available.

Justin Bassett, a statistician from New York City, was minutes into what he thought was just another job interview when the standard discourse had quickly developed into an invasion of privacy.

He had just finished answering a few typical character questions when the interviewer began to search for his Facebook profile. But when it was discovered that Bassett had made his profile private, the interviewer quickly requested his login information.

Bassett immediately refused, stating he didn't want to work for a company that would request such personal information before withdrawing his application. Since the report began making the rounds online, many have voiced their concern over the intrusive request.

"It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, Federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University in the Globe. Kerr adds that he finds such a request to be "an egregious privacy violation."

Making matters worse is the fact that this is nothing new. Baltimore resident Robert Collins was interviewing for a security guard position last year when he received a similar request, but his response was slightly different than that of Bassett.

"During his interview he (Collins) was asked for his login information for Facebook so the interviewer could check for possible gang affiliations," according to a Techspot report. "Despite being shocked at such a request, he complied, stating that he needed the job to provide for his family and felt he had no choice."

Manuel Valdes and Shannon McFarland explain that "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."

Questions have since been raised about the legalities of such a practice. Both Maryland and Illinois have proposed legislation that would forbid public agencies from requesting social media access.

Collins was participating in a reinstatement interview after taking a temporary leave from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services when asked for his login information. His case went on to inspire Maryland's proposed legislation.

"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.

Facebook's brief statement on the Collins case declared that they forbid "anyone from soliciting the login information or accessing an account belonging to someone else," according to Techspot. Section four of Facebook's terms of service clearly indicates that "you will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

Echoing that sentiment is the Department of Justice, who considers it a federal crime to violate the terms of service of a social networking site, although admitting that such violations "would go unprosecuted."

This contributes to Lori Andrews' concern about the pressure placed on job applicants, even if they voluntarily comply.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," said Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Bassett, meanwhile, considers himself lucky that he was not desperate for the job.

"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."

(Reuters photo)