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article imageFacebook warns employers about asking users for passwords

By Leigh Goessl     Mar 23, 2012 in Internet
Facebook has issued a post today that warns employers not to ask applicants or employees for passwords.
This practice, which has come increasingly under fire in recent months, violates Facebook's terms of service.
Succumbing to the temptation of the information social media holds, a number of employers and schools have been asking individuals for passwords. Or, if not directly asking to access the Facebook account, what they are doing is having people log in while another 'shoulder surfs' and looks through the account, as recently reported by Digital Journal.
There is no law stopping employers, or others, from soliciting access to social media accounts, such as Facebook.
Facebook is now speaking out against the practices of 'shoulder surfing' and asking for passwords, and the network strongly noted it violates Facebook's terms of service. Today the social network giant had no qualms in pointing this factor out.
Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, published a post this morning entitled "Protecting Your Passwords and Your Privacy."
Egan talked about the "distressing increase of reports" of employers and others seeking "inappropriate access" to personal and private information. The post noted obtaining access to another's account undermines not only the user's privacy expectations, but also anyone the person is connected with on the network.
Facebook called employers and others asking for passwords "most alarming." The network indicated people should not be pressured into giving up their personal key to the network's virtual door as a prerequisite to obtaining a job.
"As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," the Facebook post said. " And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job."
Egan then reiterated Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that states users are not allowed to share or solicit a Facebook password.
Facebook also pointed out the ethical and legal issues that can accompany such practices as invading personal Facebook accounts, stating employers might open themselves to discrimination lawsuits.
"For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person," Egan wrote. "Additionally, looking at Facebook accounts may put them in other types of legal tangles such as "if the information suggests the commission of a crime."
Digital Journal recently posed the question if employment laws would be effective in the era of Facebook. Theoretically, are employers possibly circumventing laws by seeing information on Facebook they would not be allowed to ask during an interview?
According to PC World, U.S. senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, thinks the practice of accessing social media accounts should be banned.
While employers may not be 'requiring' people to cough up access to their social media accounts, the pressure to land a job may outweigh privacy desires. Blumenthal said in an interview with Politico, "The coercive element of the request really makes it less than voluntary."
While Facebook is often noted to have a questionable track record, with some admitted gaffes, when it comes to privacy, password and account security is one situation where the network appears to take a solid stance and firmly states users have a right to private passwords to protect an account. The company warned it is not above taking action against any violations.
More about Facebook, Passwords, Employers, Privacy, Internet security