Would your students hand over their passwords to Bozeman?

The first question most people probably asked when this story broke last week was "Where the hell is Bozeman?" As it turns out, I was born in Bozeman, Montana.

The first question most people probably asked when this story broke last week was "Where the hell is Bozeman?" As it turns out, I was born in Bozeman, Montana. I didn't stay there long since my dad finished up his graduate work at Montana State University and moved us to Seattle so he could take a job at Boeing.

Why the personal history lesson? Because in 1977, my dad had quite a few job prospects and nobody had even dreamed of social networking. Now, job prospects largely stink just about everywhere and social networking is far more common than good jobs. So if the city of Bozeman, or any other employer for that matter, offered you a job and then made giving them your MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter accounts and passwords a condition of employment, would you hand them over or walk away from the job?

According to several news sources, Bozeman ended

its long-standing policy that job applicants provide user names and passwords to social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace...mid-day Friday.

However, the fact that this policy is "long-standing" certainly suggests that people have been complying with the policy for a while. How desperate are people for jobs that they are willing to turn over this very private information?

Hopefully young people are beginning to realize that privacy is dead. Our digital footprints are easily tracked and very reasonable parts of the average background check. Giving someone actual login information is far different, though, than being mindful of what you post online.

I'd love to believe the following about the average recent graduate:

  • He/she doesn't post pictures or videos that might prevent him/her from getting a job, e.g., bong hits, no matter how big and impressive, should not be tweeted and posted on twitpic.
  • He/she posts only text online that he/she can live with for a long time, or is at least aware that anything he/she writes can be Googled by future employers, spouses, etc.
  • He/she is savvy enough to know that handing anyone usernames and passwords to just about anything is asking to have his/her personal brand assassinated (I don't care how in love with that significant other you are: break-ups are hell and they're worse when those naked pictures appear on your blog; I also don't care how badly you want that job).
  • He/she is employable enough (and confident enough) to walk away from a job that asks them to compromise important pieces of their identity.

I am, unfortunately, not confident that any or all of these hold true for a lot of our students (particularly those fresh out of high school and those desperate for a job in a recession). I'm glad that the Bozeman city government has ended this practice. How widespread is it, though, and how many people made this unacceptable compromise before the local news exposed the practice?

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