Why a business only hurts itself by demanding Facebook passwords

Summary:The disadvantages outweigh the benefit of demanding employee Facebook passwords - you only damage the company.

Privacy may be a casualty of today's data and digital connection explosion, but it does not mean that businesses have the divine right to exploit such concerns.

Now, it is not enough to simply update your privacy settings. Instead, some companies are choosing to go further than searching for a job applicant's digital footprint through Google, and demanding access to social media profiles -- most notably Facebook, where a wealth of information concerning the personal and 'private' life of a person can be rifled through at leisure.

How would you feel if you went for a job interview, and as part of the process, the organisation demanded that you access your social media account and click where they dictate? Even worse, they simply expect the password to be handed over, so they can snoop at leisure.

The tantalizing prospect of spying on someone's personal life, connections, family and friends has to be suppressed -- because if it is not, then the business itself will suffer.

A company's reputation suffers.

If a business portrays itself as caring so little for their employee's rights to privacy, then naturally a potential member of staff would wonder how that extends to other areas -- and working for you may suddenly not seem like such a tantalizing prospect.

An online profile can give a viewer far more information than what is released on a resume; a recent Microsoft survey finding that 70 percent of recruiters in the U.S. have rejected an applicant based on information they found online. Prospective employers can find out far more about a person through a digital footprint than a job interview itself.

However, this does not mean businesses have a right to trespass from what is publicly available to what is sequestered behind privacy barricades.

A business that asks for Facebook access does not only have access to information concerning the employee, but every connection they have. What gives a company the right to demand to know about family connections and friends? The person whom you had the private, messaged conversation with has not given their consent for that information to be shared with other people wholly unconnected with you.

It's more than intrusive, it is unacceptable. Once your business becomes known for these practices, the word will spread -- through the very medium you are attempting to control. In terms of PR, this will not benefit a company.

Expect rebellion.

Out of principle, if a company I worked for demanded my Facebook password, I would give them my notice instead. Would you also like to see my phone records? Access to my email account? How about a bank statement? Oh, what the hell, have a set of my house keys too -- and here's my diary for bedtime reading.

There are many talented, skilled and experienced people out there who, even desperate for work, will turn down a job (and therefore lose the company a valuable asset) out of principle.

It's not about the account. It's not about viewing photos from five years ago, or even having access to that embarrasing drunken Facebook message you sent your ex on Friday night after one too many.

It's about the principle.

More than that, by simply asking for this access, you are representing a company that obviously cares nothing for the fact the employee is not an automaton, and has a life outside of the sallow lighting and office cubicle in the 9 - 5 position.

There may be a few exceptions to this; such as applying for a job in security or government -- but these are few and far between; and it is likely that those applying for high-security roles should expected to be vetoed.

Generation Y, among others, will not accept it.

It will not work. Some will delete their Facebook accounts. Others, (many people I know personally taking this route), have began changing either their last name or network country location in order to stay hidden.

At the least, some users of Facebook have begun to realize privacy settings are there for a reason, and have acted accordingly.

There is a point where an employee will break. They are people, not items -- and a member of staff that feels exploited or undervalued will not do their best. Businesses may have the upper hand in terms of offering jobs in a difficult economy -- like offering a starving dog a bone -- but if you then proceed to clout the animal, it will bite you. There will be repercussions.

You may not notice right away, but the business will operate as well as it could -- and the resentment of your intrusion may lose you more than reputation; instead, valuable employees will refuse to work for you.

Social media will be used against you.

In the same way that intrusive surveillance by governments causes uproar in the general public, some businesses are following suit by deciding they have the right to monitor their employee's activity.

How do people today let their displeasure be known? They use the same tool you want access to. Social media.

In Maryland, if you decided to apply to the state Department of Corrections, you were asked to log in to your Facebook account while the interviewer 'shoulder surfed'. Once this knowledge became public, what happened? Social media went berserk, and the press took an interest -- to the detriment of the department.

In a world where a single 22 year-old can become the catalyst for $4.5 billion in accounts to be transferred across financial services due to a broadcast of anger over social media, it is a powerful force to square up against. In the same way that good customer service can result in widespread elevation of a company's reputation through these networks, treating customers or employees poorly will result in the opposite.

It is likely that some employees will bow to the social pressure and hand over such information if they feel that they must. Some businesses have bleated that the procedure is 'voluntary' -- but it is no more 'voluntary' than having to fill out an application form, or attend an interview, when the pressure to submit is present.

Someone who needs a job will often go to the ends of the earth to secure one -- but businesses have no right to exploit this.

Without even considering the legalities of the demand, and forcing an applicant to break Facebook's Terms of Service, it is also intrusive to anyone who has exchanged communication with the person in question -- information that third party individuals have given no consent to be shared; whether it be a private message or a phone number viewable through an accessed Facebook profile.

However, Generation Y also need to be aware that anything posted online has to be considered public. In the same way that posting about your location on Foursquare could become a goldmine for a burglar, there are no guarantees that private messages or restricted photos will not eventually find themselves within the public domain.

Resticting accounts, changing names and hiding your digital footprint may be more difficult for younger people to accept as they rely more heavily on these kinds of networks to communicate than their older counterparts, but is it becoming necessary as the lines between personal and professional begin to blur.

Image credit: C.Osborne/ZDNet

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Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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