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Job Hunting, News, Social Media

Someone Wants Your Facebook Password? It’s Called “Shoulder Surfing…”

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The Associated Press reported recently on a New York man, Justin Bassett, who was interviewing for a new job.

Bassett “had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page,” the AP reported. “But she couldn’t see his private profile and asked him to hand over his (username and password.)”

Bassett withdrew his application saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would want such personal information.

Employers, eager to find ways to screen job candidates and new hires, are asking for passwords as a possible condition of employment. Why? Because they can… or at least they think they can.

Problem is, employers might not be aware of what they’re getting in to.

Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan writes,”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.”

Asking for a user password is a direct violation of Facebook’s terms of use and companies who access user profiles could find themselves facing discrimination charges should they encounter personal information about a user such as a protected age group.

Public outcry against this latest disturbing practice has legislators hastening to put together legislation to stop the practice. Senators from New York and Connecticut are calling on the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to launch investigations. In Canada labor laws offer strong protection against employers asking for personal information, but in the United States, where such laws are much more lax, the legality of this practice is rather murky.

Current law already prohibits employers from considering protected information like age, marital status or religious views – information that might be easily seen on an applicant’s private Facebook profile. Privacy options can keep much of this information from being seen by the public or even friends, but an employer can easily find this information when signing on to an applicant’s profile. This opens the employer up to significant legal liability.

Meanwhile, what does the jobseeker do?

My opinion is simply this: RUN LIKE HELL.

Asking for usernames and passwords in this day and age is like asking a job candidate 50 years ago to look through their mailbox or put a bug on your phone, according to Michigan State Rep. Paul Opsommer. “There is no way the practice would be tolerated.”

Giving employers permission to “shoulder surf” (I prefer to call it low-tech hacking) to screen candidates opens the gates to a host of more invasive hiring and other business practices down the line. Further, such a practice should be an indication of the company’s general ethics and lack of clarity of vision in opening themselves up to the possibility of lawsuits and/or negative publicity.

Current laws concerning employee and candidate privacy needs to be clarified and, if needed, legislation put in place to summarily stop this distressing practice. In the meantime, job seekers need to be prepared should this happen to them. Thankfully, while most job seekers have heard about the problem, few have directly been affected by it. But if you are, how do you respond?

  1. Just as I would never provide an outside party with your private information as an employee, I would never provide an outside party with my own. I’m sorry, I will have to decline.
  2. I have agreed when I signed up for Facebook to abide by their terms of use which say explicitly not to share my password with anyone else. You wouldn’t want to hire a person who doesn’t take his/her agreements seriously, would you?
  3. Do you realize that there are federal regulations against asking about kids, marital status, religious views and other protected private matters in the course of an employment decision? I wouldn’t want to jeopardize your legal standing by making any such information in my profile visible to you.
  4. (Or if you want to be humorous): Sure! Give me yours and I’ll give you mine!!

About kimberlyjmyers

I am a workforce development professional in Washington State. I have ten years experience working with dislocated workers, vocationally impaired, and people with disabilities on many levels and backgrounds from offenders to non-English speaking refugees from around the world. The One thing the clients I have worked with all had in common: there was some barrier to employment, and I work diligently every day to identify, address and remove those barriers.


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