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Gini Dietrich

Facebook Speaks Out Against Employers Asking for Passwords

By: Gini Dietrich | March 28, 2012 | 
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I’m having a really hard time understanding some employers today.

As I travel the country and spend time with business leaders, it’s very disturbing to me how many have firewalls installed that prevent their employees from using the social networks during business hours.

As if they aren’t just using their phones to get online during the day. Some business leaders go so far as to take phones away as soon as a person walks in the door to prevent even that.

I really don’t understand it. Unless you’re running a daycare for adults, is the trust level so low you can’t expect they’ll get their jobs done if they spend 10 minutes on Facebook during the day? We can allow smoke breaks, but not social media breaks.

It blows my mind, but I didn’t think it could get worse.

And then I read about some companies requiring employees to hand over their social network passwords in order to get hired.

Stop. The. Madness.

This reminds me of the companies that read people’s emails, looking for reasons to fire them. This happened to a friend of mine. She sent an email to a recruiter from her Hotmail account, they were reading anything going over their network, and they fired her.

It didn’t happen to me and I felt betrayed for her. And, really, who has the time?

Thankfully Facebook is stepping in, speaking out against businesses who do this.

Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan writes in a Friday blog post:

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.

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.

Reports of such practices are widespread. In June 2009, the city of Bozeman, Montana made headlines when it was revealed that its job applications forms asked for usernames and passwords for the job seekers accounts on “social networking,” including everything from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Google.

Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union took aim at the Maryland Department of Corrections after it asked a Maryland man for his Facebook credentials during a recertification interview.

And last week, the Calgary Herald reported on a similar incident in Canada.

It’s even against our civil liberties for employers to hire or fire based on what we have on our social networks.

Employers: Watch how you monitor the social networks for candidates and employees. You could get in a lot of trouble if you’re too closely monitoring the personal activities of your team.

Employees: While it’s still important to be careful what you post online, if anyone asks for your passwords or writes you up (or, worse, fires you) for something you’ve posted on your personal network, you have some recourse.

This doesn’t apply for anything posted on business social networks so mind your Ps and Qs.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

115 comments
Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @ginidietrich based on that rogue @mitchjoel and his definition of a community I guess you have one. Of course if @denperezfilms had his way your topics would only be about Hootie and the Blowfish and the Spin Doctors his favorite bands.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is nuts. A company just has to have employees sign a work rules document that allows them to fire employees when using company property improperly or if they are caught spending time ate work not working. For the most part we have employment at will anyway.

 

If you use your work computer and spend hours on facebook the company will see that anyway with or without your password.`

 

That said facebook IPO is in may,. Time spent per user is down from a high of 55 mins in early 2010 to just over 19 minutes today. And this threatens their page view grow since part of their time spent and page views happen during people's work hours! So this is not some altruistic stance and more a selfish one.

bluediamond108
bluediamond108

@corey_smith iam also against it.we live in a time,when children or spouses dont share their passwords with near and dear ones.EMPLOYERS ASK

msesthy
msesthy

@ginidietrich great post. at a convention last year the speaker told salon owners to fire any employee that didn't friend them on FB.

GnosisArts
GnosisArts

@ginidietrich @lisagerber Everytime I log into Twitter one of y'all got another blog post poppin' up, lol!!

GnosisArts
GnosisArts

@ginidietrich @lisagerber Good grief you two ladies are some blogging fools!!!

yasinakgun
yasinakgun

@ginidietrich great post Gini! Retweeted!

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

The more we go on the more it seems we are falling back to the Dark Age, with a bit more technology though. Or the KGB and Stasi teachings have spread almost everywhere. 1984 should become mandatory studying as soon as possible. At least everyone will know where we're going to. Imho. :)

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I think @PattiRoseKnight is right - this is such bone-headed business mismanagement, it's foreign to you Gini; as were my NON-smoking breaks to many managers back in the day. But this is the thinking of too many businesses out there.

 

Valid security risks aside, they think people will goof off all day and not get work done (which is why you fire them) or WORSE, they'll play on FB and still do a good job, get results and somehow it just doesn't compute and middle managers heads explode. They think people will spend their time badmouthing their company and looking for other work, when ok - if it's a crap place to work, maybe. 

 

Had a discussion the other day about the 'new' PR resume - and how it's the 'Google test' we should pass. Nice idea but too 'pie in the sky' when the reality is, most companies keyword search and it's HR hiring by shopping list. Sure it's not the kind of place we want to work ala @Ike comment (heh) - but can beggers really be choosers? If you're looking for work and the only ones hiring are the ones banning social media, demanding drug screens (w/out cause) and for you to open the door to your social house (h/t @jeremypratte ). 

 

I can't stand this. I'd find someway to call those on their b.s. and yes, seek employment elsewhere. I'm cheering for the ACLU on this one and sadly think this will be but one of many 'privacy' issues of the digital age. FWIW.

Ike
Ike

I have no problem with the practice.

 

A proper interview allows for the prospective hire to learn about his potential boss and corporate culture.

 

The correct response for the job-seeker is to ask those doing the interviewing to hand over their own passwords, as well as any of their supervisors, and the passwords of those in Human Resources.

 

Trust is a two-way street.

Justjeffpls
Justjeffpls

@ginidietrich Working 4 $30.00+ min. (much more 4 skilled trades) (GM) would perhaps Change mind.

Selenaig9ujy8g
Selenaig9ujy8g

@shonali Get yourself a walmart coupon. Everything you have to do is answer walmart's question! See my profile link!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

Maybe it's a test. If you hand over the password you don't get the job. Yeah, that's it! 

Corey Smith
Corey Smith

Companies that require your Facebook password are not violating civil liberties and not breaking laws but I agree that it's stupid. If someone wants to work for an organization, they have to play by that company's rules. If they don't want to give up their passwords (and they shouldn't) then they should go work somewhere else. If you are stupid enough to work for a company that expects you to give up passwords to your online accounts, then you get what you deserve.

 

Let's understand that social media is not a legally protected activity. You don't have to participate. You can choose to not have an account and not utilize the services. If I was asked to give this up I would simply say, "No." If they say my job depended on it, I would say, "I understand... the answer is still no." If they actually fired me, I would tell everyone how stupid the company is.

BethMosher
BethMosher

I'd never give my FB password out and I'd cite too if asked in an interview the excellent point made earlier - "if I give you my FB password on a whim, how can I be trusted with your network login and password."  But, this does bring up (again) the importance of watching how you conduct yourself on social networks and the rule I live by: I'm not on FB with anyone with whom I have a working relationship. It's too easy to muddy the waters. 

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

It's the epitome of insecure leadership! These same leaders - let's call them managers, because they aren't truly leaders, also fear hiring people smarter than they are in specific areas. (This actually references what @kamichat wrote about yesterday - if you aren't a data geek, for example, hire one!). 

 

The comment about smoke breaks really got me fired up. So true!!! 

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

I doubt that this practice is legal and would love to see someone get their butts royally sued.  There has to be a good lawyer out there who wants to make a name for his/her self.  Hell, there has to be a bad lawyer who looks good on teevee who can take this on.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

"We can allow smoke breaks, but not social media breaks." - Love this! It really is sad when you think about it.

 

I wouldn't give the confidential passwords of my employee email or passwords to my employers accounts that I know to anyone, so why should they expect me to breach my own confidentiality?

 

jenzings
jenzings

 @kamichat I'm not sure it matters how widespread it is right now. The concern, of course, is if it will spread. I think that if the attention causes even one employer who was considering doing this to chuck it, that's a good thing.

 

Also, while the example Shel uses in the article is from 2010, I'm pretty sure that there have been other reports of people being asked in job interviews for their passwords.

 

I would never hand over my passwords either. If asked, I'd point out to the potential employer that they were asking me to violate the terms of service I agreed with to another company, which I won't do.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@GnosisArts It might actually be the same blog post...and not several of them :)

IamDez
IamDez

 @Corey Smith I disagree. There are certain questions that interviewers cannot ask during an interview. Here's a quick list (that I got form the link below the list:

Race

Color

Sex

Religion

National origin

Birthplace

Age

Disability

Marital/family status

 

Source: http://jobsearch.about.com/od/interviewsnetworking/a/illegalinterv.htm

 

Some of those pieces of information CAN be obtained after hiring or be a pre-requisite to officially hiring (like age and current citizenship status). 

 

I found a Michigan Tech pdf that has a nice list of Legal/Illegal questions for during interviews as well:

http://www.admin.mtu.edu/hro/forms/whatyoucanandcantasklongversionmay05.pdf

 

MOST of this information can be gleaned from your Facebook account.

jeremypratte
jeremypratte

 @Corey Smith I mostly agree. But, if you're talking about being FIRED (not before you're hired) beware of a slippery slope. If asking for you Facebook password isn't violating civil liberties, is asking for a key to your house violating that? Technically, you don't have to own a house, either. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Corey Smith And, based on what the news is saying, you might actually have a case if they fired you (or didn't hire you) for it. The Civil Liberties Union is all over it. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @BethMosher Totally agree. We still have to be very mindful of what we post online.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @wabbitoid I think that's what is happening with the company in MD. They're getting themselves sued in a big way. It's not legal.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@cmcpointsofview I'm on your time zone right now. It's kind of fun!

GnosisArts
GnosisArts

@ginidietrich Oh, right. I did see the same post worded differently. :)

Corey Smith
Corey Smith

 @IamDez Whether these questions are legal or illegal is sort of a slippery slope. The reality is that in most states, the questions are not illegal but only in states where they have interpreted anti-discrimination laws as such.

 

What is illegal is the discrimination based on the answers to those questions. If you ask those questions then discriminate based on that then you are in trouble. If you ask the question then hire them anyway, then the likelihood of anyone caring is pretty low.

 

Let me be clear...I think it's a stupid practice regardless and I think that anyone who is asked this question should get up and walk out the door and not work for that company.

 

By the way. I don't look at about.com as an official answer source. I found another about.com source that said what I think. However, I asked my HR department so, if I'm wrong then I'll just shift the blame on them and come out smelling like roses :)

 

Having access to a Facebook password doesn't necessarily give you access to that information and not having access to the password doesn't necessarily protect that information. But, if you get the password then not hire them, it might be pretty easy for the applicant to justify that there was discrimination.

 

It's a pretty stupid practice regardless.

Corey Smith
Corey Smith

 @jeremypratte Access to my home is a very different thing that having access to my Facebook page. With that said, I tend to feel this way mostly because I have the naturally assumption that if something is on my Facebook page it's public information regardless of my privacy settings because Facebook's terms of service make the content technically their content and not yours.

 

My home is my home because of current property right laws. I pay for my home not the employer. Even a renter has certain limitations to how much privacy they get in a rented property.

Corey Smith
Corey Smith

 @ginidietrich Recently, I was a teacher at a local college. I won't name their name but their initials are http://www.stevenshenager.edu/.

 

They sent an email stating that the college needed to have all Facebook passwords. Moreover, they said that the Facebook accounts were the property of the college (again, I won't say who they are).

 

I chose to ignore it but figured if they asked again, I would be public in my scoffing of them.

 

I don't teach there anymore and it's the attitude that causes them to ask for this information that prevents me from wanting to not because I felt my civil liberties were violated. It's because they are idiots.

 

I've been blessed that I don't face much discrimination and I offer my employees the same privileges that I've enjoyed. People who are facing these problems should find companies like mine to work for and stop working for idiots.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

 @ginidietrich I'd REALLY prefer to marry a house renovator. But I'll keep what I got. 

He is very much a keeper. (in case he's reading this)

cmcpointsofview
cmcpointsofview

@ginidietrich Glad you're enjoying it!! Wish I was on your time zone...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Lisa Gerber He's totally a keeper...but maybe we could find a renovator and share him?

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