Facebook: Legal action against employers asking for your password

Facebook: Legal action against employers asking for your password

Summary: Facebook wants to protect its users from employers demanding access to their accounts. The company is looking to draft new laws as well as take legal action against employers.

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Update: Facebook: No plans to sue employers asking for your password

Update: Senator vows to stop employers asking for your Facebook password

Facebook today weighed in on the issue of employers asking current and prospective employees for their Facebook passwords. The company noted that doing so undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends, as well as potentially exposes the employer to 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," Facebook Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan said in a statement. "We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. 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."

In fact, Facebook points out that sharing or soliciting a Facebook password is a violation of the social network's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Here's the relevant excerpt:

You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

The social networking giant is considering using the law to protect its 845 million users. There are two routes Menlo Park is looking at: a) getting politicians to pass a law barring employers from this practice and/or b) suing employers who are asking you for your Facebook credentials.

"Facebook takes your privacy seriously," Egan said in a statement. "We'll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges. While we will continue to do our part, it is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves, and we will do our best to protect that right."

This is great news for all Facebook users. Previously, the only organization protecting Facebook users from this problem was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which refers to the practice as privacy invasion.

"It's an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people's private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement. "People are entitled to their private lives. You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account."

Update: Senator vows to stop employers asking for your Facebook password

Update: Facebook: No plans to sue employers asking for your password

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Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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30 comments
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  • The problem is

    Your image on Facebook is probably a more accurate representation of who you are. As a result, it is highly relevant of prospective employers, as it should be. If something is of a really personal and private nature, perhaps you should not put it on Facebook? The term "blabbermouth" comes to mind.

    I do not think Facebook really gives a damn about your privacy, as evidenced by past Zuckerberg statements, but I guess he feels that his business is being threatened, and all of a sudden privacy matters. What a surprise.

    Edit: http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/opinion/2163313/privacy
    D.T.Long
    • I don't...

      Post anything that would be of interest to an employer on Facebook, nor anything that would likely prevent me from getting a job from any employer who follows labor laws (due to privacy concerns, I don't post much of a personal nature at all). That being said, I have Facebook friends from many facets of my life. Some from high school (almost 20 years ago) that I haven't seen in person nor likely will ever see in person again. Some of those people post things that aren't politically correct, are immature, etc. While I use FB because it's handy to keep in touch with old friends, it could be very easy for an employer to think because a small group of FB friends post details about their drinking exploits, their political views, politically incorrect jokes, etc. that I have similar views or behavior.

      So in that sense, it wouldn't be any different than a potential employer to ask me to bring them to my high school reunion, which obviously wouldn't happen, so why should it happen on FB? If they want to look at what I make public on FB, fine, but it's completely inappropriate for them to ask me for account credentials or force me to display my page to them as a condition of employment.
      TroyMcClure
      • I don't think..

        any reasonable prospective employer would hold the actions/views of others against you, even if they were so called "friends". I may socialize with a lot of different people and travel in a lot of different circles. That is a strength, because that is often what you will be required to do at work. The most valuable skill set a prospective employer is usually looking for are people skills. If your FB pages reflect that, you are showing off your strengths.

        It is interesting how nobody here seems to have considered the possibility that your FB pages could actually HELP you land a good job if they show some very desirable skill sets and personality traits. If you have skeletons buried there however, you certainly would not want to show that to the prospective employer, but then you probably do not deserve that job either.
        D.T.Long
    • Like somebody said a long time ago,

      Behind a keyboard and posting online or on BBSes (that's how dated this is), a person is on par with being drunk and making a scene. Lack of inhibition.

      I think you're right regarding your second paragraph, but I don't think people are necessarily being honest or accurate with online-anything. After all, how many personal dating profiles are comprised of 100% truthful comments? (Few...)

      In short, like people said then, as they do now, behind the keyboard is not the same thing as in real life. Using facebook and others to make summary judgments on how a person might work in the office is pretty much not going to be worthwhile. Never mind that people are allowed personal lives outside their line of work. If companies want to control that, that's fine - just pay a proper wage in return. How valuable do workers think they are? And how cheap will they allow themselves to be?
      HypnoToad72
  • Passwords? Absolutely not.

    I have mixed feelings about using social networking checks as part of the hiring process. I think there may be some value to it, probably even more value than a credit check. I might consider "friending" a representative from a company that does these sorts of checks, as long as I know that's who they are, and they can view my public posts, which are mostly pictures of my dog and cheeseburgers. But no way are they getting my passwords. They have zero business having access to my private messages and/or chatlogs. Any employer who demands passwords as a condition of employment probably isn't someone I want to work for
    R.L. Parson
  • So is MDOC on the sue list?

    If I remember correctly, the Maryland Dept of Corrections is one of these.
    Be nice to see FB take them to task for this.
    rhonin
  • Re suing employers

    "[i]suing employers who are asking you for your Facebook credentials.[/i]"

    In order to sue, the entity suing must have "legal standing", the defendant must have a "legal duty" to the plaintiff and the plaintiff must have "legal damages". If someone beats up my next-door neighbor, [i]I[/i] can't sue the guy because he doesn't owe [i]me[/i] any legal duty. Therefore, I don't have "standing"--no legally recognized interest in the matter. Also, no matter what happened to my neighbor, [i]I[/i] haven't suffered any "legal damages" because [i]my[/i] rights haven't been violated.

    Employers asking for passwords owe no legal duty to third parties such as Facebook and Facebook can't create such a duty by a contract with someone other than the employer (i.e., a contract between Facebook and the FB user.)

    Also, "opening the floodgates" is a common legal argument. "If Facebook can sue anyone who asks for a password, then [i]every[/i] company/site/organization that uses passwords could bring a [i]separate[/i] lawsuit." Remember--"asking for passwords" would not be limited to employers. [i]Any[/i] organization concerned about its public image or putting a person in a position of trust could ask for passwords.
    Rick_R
    • Anyone

      Anyone can start a class action suit. So says the law.
      NoAxToGrind
  • Privacy is what you make of it.

    It cracks me up when people think Facebook info is "private", as journal entries in a book are private. Hello!? You're GIVING your information, everything, to a private company to use and to data farm. People are still in denial about this and their expectation of privacy is laughable. I don't expect privacy and keep my account clean with the help of services like http://fbsweeper.com because I trust Facebook as much as I trust a total stranger with my credit card. Plus, accounts are hacked every day due to weak passwords, exposing peoples personal info.

    If you're involved with any kind of position of security, it's expected that you're going to go through a security screening. The relevance of your Facebook profile is the same as a personal website or blog, and employers should have the right to review all and any public profiles as part of the screening process. The best solution is to not use Facebook at all for any sensitive correspondence that you don't want to be discovered by a potential employer or any government agency (NSA, etc.)
    vanarie
    • You just ...

      make WAY too much sense to belong in this forum. :-)

      And watch my post being voted down. I think that pretty much summarizes this place.
      D.T.Long
    • No...

      "The best solution is to not use Facebook at all for any sensitive correspondence that you don't want to be discovered by a potential employer or any government agency (NSA, etc.) ."

      ...the BEST SOLUTION is not to use ANY of these lame social networikng sites in the first place.
      It'sNotMe
    • Caveat

      Just because you rent a flat [instead of owning it], that your friends can stop by if you let them in and that strangers can break into it doesn't mean it's not considered a private area, nor that breaking in is okay. Same goes with Facebook.
      wildpeaks
    • You're arguing up the wrong tree

      No one is saying an employer can't look at your public profile. Anybody can look at your public profile. What's under discussion is whether it's wrong for an employer to require access to your PRIVATE profile. And, IMO, it's as wrong for them to do that as it is for them to demand to go through your house as a condition of employment.
      swmace
    • I agree with the majority of what you've written.

      It makes no sense to me people would complain about information posted on a site specifically designed to share information with others. It's a social site and to expect privacy from it is foolish.
      ye
    • CRAZY

      I seriously think you are wrong........and CRAZY.
      Blanca2012
  • I beleive

    I believe that every person fired for personal facebook content, like teachers and the such should also be given the right to sue past employers who fired them for using their own private facebook against them. If I pass your background check, your drug test and credit check (yes 2 jobs I had made me submit to a credit check), then my private life is none of your damn business.
    Nate_K
  • Farcebook concerned about privacy? What a crock!

    Surely they are kidding. (I know...don't call you Shirley).
    IT_Fella
    • Facebook is not concerned about our privacy ....

      ... just that it is the only entity that can access it at all times (save for court-ordered account access)
      MaratZ
  • Facebook doesn't have a standing to sue employers.

    They're not in violation of Facebooks terms and conditions. They're free to ask for the users passwords all they want...only if the user provides the password is there a breech of those terms. And it would be on the part of the user, not the prospective employer, that would be in breech.
    ye
    • Free to be you and me

      Employers have an easy out here. Don't bother asking the user for his password. Just ask him to log into Facebook while at the interview and give the employer a tour of their profile.

      Since they won't be giving up their password, and they won't be allowing someone else to 'access' their account, there's absolutely _no_ violation of the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

      Everybody wins.
      armenkattan