Facebook takes action against employer password requests

Claudine Zap
March 23, 2012

It's official: There are lines that even Facebook won't cross. Noting on its company blog a "distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people's Facebook profiles or private information," Facebook has moved to make it a violation of the social network's terms of service to "share or solicit a Facebook password."

With Facebook becoming the new normal of how people share and communicate, some employers have folded Facebook into the candidate screening process -- asking to access a job applicant's account, either by using a subscriber's password or by "shoulder surfing" -- watching while the applicant logs on to their profile.

This is apparently happening to actual people: The Associated Press described a situation of one Justin Bassett who was asked by an interviewer for his Facebook password when his basic account wasn't revealing enough. He refused, and withdrew his application for the job.

Erin Egan, chief privacy officer for Policy at Facebook said the social network would also be advocating for laws that would ban this sort of thing. Maryland and Illinois are both looking into possible legislation that would forbid public agencies to request access to social network sites, adding: "Facebook takes your privacy seriously."

It does? Social networking has certainly stretched the bounds of what people think of as private, placing all kinds of personal details into the public sphere. So Facebook's stand faced skepticism by some.

As the Atlantic Wire noted, "Suddenly, Facebook is in the privacy business." Now that Facebook has filed for its IPO, that may be very good for business. The article also notes, "That whole, privacy-is-over message didn't go over well with Facebook's 350 million users in 2010, and so in 2012, Facebook is singing a very different tune."

The ACLU complained about the practice, calling it an "invasion of privacy" and likening it to an employer going through your snail mail: "You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account."