Employer vs Facebook: Is there a point to privacy settings?

Employer vs Facebook: Is there a point to privacy settings?

Summary: Privacy settings may have briefly blinded the eyes of spying potential employers - but how far will they go to pry in to your social networks?


The jobseekers of today are becoming more technologically aware of the blurred divide between a physical identity and its online counterpart, but it seems that changing one's privacy settings to bar the prying eyes of potential employers now is not enough.

Some businesses and academic institutions are demanding access to these treasure troves of information.

As if Facebook's introduction of its timeline feature wasn't enough, which blasted skeletons out of many a user's cupboard with the force of a sudden explosion, now it is not simply the new partner in your life who can see the drunken Facebook status you left in relation to the ex four years ago before frantic deletion -- but potentially a future employer.

Do you have an image or two of yourself being carried home after a heavy night? You may want to consider changing your name and perhaps denying you have a Facebook account -- especially as the temptation of so much personal information is now an irresistible lure for many organisations.

How would you feel if you went for an interview to try and secure a job or place at university, and as part of the process the organisation demanded access to all the information you keep concealed behind the privacy barricade?

In Maryland, if you decide to apply to the state Department of Corrections, you may be asked to log in to your Facebook account while the interviewer 'shoulder surfs'. They watch, and you click through wall posts, photos, and any other activities which are usually concealed through personal privacy settings.

The practice is 'voluntary', according to the ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann -- however, if you are going to refuse then the possibility of you being offered employment seems highly unlikely.

Due to this, how many applicants, no matter how much they disagree with the practice, will say no?

Originally, the 'social spying' went further, and job applicants were required to surrender their usernames and passwords. However, after a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the practice was suspended, following the case of Robert Collins, an officer who was forced to hand over his credentials during a recertification interview at the agency.

In a statement, an ACLU spokesperson said concerning the case:

“The demand for Facebook login information is not only a gross breach of privacy [..] it raises significant legal concerns under the Federal Stored Communications Act and Maryland state law, which protect privacy rights and extend protections to electronic communications."

Not only may this practice breach privacy law, but how is it an different from being required to hand over your email address and password? Social networks are not purely public arena platforms, especially as privacy tightens up across the board -- private messages can be exchanged, and your connections, who you are associated with and who your friends are, can be viewed.

For government agencies, it is possible to understand the reasoning behind it. If a governmental position requires top-security clearance, then the agency needs to be aware of your online footprint -- in case something is found which is unlawful or may be detrimental to the job in question.

But for 'mainstream' work, this seems utterly unacceptable. It's not only agencies that are taking this approach -- now even schools, colleges and universities are making their presence known.

Across the U.S. in various academic institutions, such as the University of North Carolina, students that take part in particular activities -- such as athletics -- are finding themselves required to 'friend' a coach or compliance officer.

Required. It is not voluntary. No accepted friend request, no sports.

Not only this, but high-tech ways to sniff out potential social media troublemakers are also being employed, such as the use of software UDilligence, which monitors social networks and 'threat' levels of individual students.

Such demands for 'private' content have caused outrage, with claims that these actions are violating constitutional rights and potentially limiting free speech. For example, Western Kentucky University has recently been placed in the firing line for its aggressive social media regulations over a fake Twitter account of one of its faculty members.

The Maryland ACLU legislative director agrees with the criticism, saying:

"This is an invasion of privacy. People have so much personal information on their pages now. A person can treat it almost like a diary. And (interviewers and schools) are also invading other people's privacy. They get access to that individual's posts and all their friends. There is a lot of private information there."

Two separate bills have been proposed to limit the demands that organisations can put forward for potential students or employees, aiming to completely ban social media access, whether it is a governmental agency or a university. ACLU supports the proposals.

There are legitimate causes for concern when it comes to activity on social media and online in general. However, not only does such activity potentially violate privacy law (what is the difference between having Facebook or my email account spied upon?), but it without doubt violates Facebook's Terms of Service:

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.

Not only, then, is this an invasion of privacy, but could jeopardize an individual's account itself. Perhaps singular legislation in separate states will not be enough -- instead, federal law should be developed to protect our privacy.

Image credit: CNet


Topics: Security, Legal, IT Employment, Social Enterprise

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  • Proof read.

    You're still not proof reading before you publish. :(
    • Um...

      Isn't "proof reading" one word: "proofreading"?
      • No kidding...

        It's called "Language Arts" for a reason.
        The Douginator
  • Could you say you don't have a facebook?

    And just make yourself totally unsearchable?

    I am not sure I agree with this whole invasion of personal data. It is like they are making you guilty of something and having to prove your innocence. If the information they find is public then fine go ahead and use that but to force someone to expose their privacy settings or friend an individual before they are allowed to get a job or join a sport is ridiculous. What's next? Forced inspections of your home, car, safety deposit boxes? I love how our Freedoms are just being taken away bit by bit.
    • What about my Privacy?

      It's not just the persons privacy they are violating. But every single "friend" in that persons network. It's completely disproportional. I could have sent a person a very compromising e-mail if it got into the wrong hands. this is a private communication between myself and one person. A third party has no right to read this.

      You wouldn't let them into your home to go through your mail. I see no difference in this.

      I have rights as well as the person being forced to disclose their details, as does everyone else in their network.

      It's impact goes far beyond one person. To Quite literally in some cases, thousands of people.
      • RE: What about my Privacy

        I agree 100% Facebook/social networking snooping should be limited to what is publicly posted unless they have some sort of warrant to look deeper into a person's private life.
      • open your eyes

        you don't stick all your emails and photos (maybe) on the walls of your living room for all visitors to see...so why do that on something as silly as facebook. Get a life...a real life not a cyber life.
    • No, that would be lying and reason for dismissal.

      No, that would be lying and reason for dismissal.
  • Why people post so much of their lives to Facebook puzzles me.

    • facebook resume

      Some employers said they wont hire someone where nothing comes up on social media searches. It seems to me facebook needs to be treated kind of like a resume, just post stuff that makes you look good
      • That is good public policy

    • Internet is the new public square

      Anything you post on the Internet is there forever and can be gotten by anyone who has enough resources and motivation. If the CIA, FBI, KGB, Mossad or any other entity with lots of resources wants *anything* you have allowed to escape from your computer onto the Internet, they can get it if they think it is worth the effort. The FBI or even your local sheriff or police department can go to a judge with some kind of lame excuse called ???reasonable cause??? and even come into your house and confiscate your equipment. Unless you have it securely encrypted, they can use any and all information found there or anywhere else, to get you locked up for many years. You may have some privacy against casual snoopers, but anyone with enough resources and motivation can get any information about them from you they think they ???need???.
  • governmental agencies

    "For government agencies, it is possible to understand the reasoning behind it. If a governmental position requires top-security clearance, then the agency needs to be aware of your online footprint ??? in case something is found which is unlawful or may be detrimental to the job in question.

    But for ???mainstream??? work, this seems utterly unacceptable."

    I agree 100% with this statement.
  • EvsFB

    I have an answer to their question. (BEEP YOU)

    That is what I would put down.
    • and so you should!

      Of course, you won't get hired.
  • Re: Employer vs Facebook: Is there a point to privacy settings?

    And what of us who do not have a Facebook account? Will the employer believe us or consider us uncooperative?

    While I understand the employer's intent, it still is a violation of a prospective employee's Civil Rights! It will also lead to the breaking of "Equal Opportunity Employment" as we know it. Maybe that's the real point! The Blue Laws were broken in similar style.
    The Rifleman
    • I'm wondering

      Do we even have civil rights anymore?

      Just what indignity will a person tolerate before he tells an employer or a potential employer to take a flying leap? Cavity search? V-chip injection? Since when did our lives and bodies become the properties of the people who are just paying us to do a job?
      sissy sue
  • Facebook

    There are many reasons I don't use Facebook. This kind of stuff is just one of them D= It's just stunning to see how seriously people take social networking these days - back in the Myspace days, most people I knew on it didn't:
    1. Use their real name
    2. Reveal their location
    3. Discuss their jobs

    So why do people do it on Facebook?
  • I cannot believe employers are such complete fools.

    Well well well.

    I see we are going through the same old same old in life again.

    OK. I can only hope that employers are of the thinking that we are in the infancy of the whole employer/social networking investigative thing and because of that they are still catching the vast majority of the public by surprise and that means the information they are getting is somewhat accurate. I say that because if they don't understand where this whole thing is going to take them, and quickly, they truly are fools duped by their own cleverness; or true lack there of.

    For those of you who don't get it, its what the spys, like the C.I.A. do when they wake up to the fact they have let a spy into their midst, in this case the spy is Facebook and you are the C.I.A. operative its spying on and potential employers are using this spy (Facebook) against you. You know what the C.I.A. does? They feed the spy just the exact information they want the spy to show to the organization using it. In other words, if I was a university student, right now I would either delete my old Facebook account, if it cannot be repaired and then start up a fresh one seeded with wonderful nonsense for the consumption of future prospective employers, carefully crafted and managed to look like a relatively normal account but literally studded with tidbits of positive (probably B.S.) points that would entice any company looking looking for someone just like the artificial me in my bogus Facebook account.

    Even now, why shouldn't people who think Facebook might come into play in this fashion at some future date just drop a few things in there now and then, probably complete lies, but what the heck. You want future employers to think you love running machinery? Say it several times on Facebook over the next few months, or even years.

    Employers truly are idiots. Lies are already spread around Facebook between so called "friends" falsehoods, exaggerations and plain old fashion misinformation. Now the public is going to see what Facebook can be used for they will turn it around so a company thinks they just hired someone who loves kids and animals but they are in real life a drug abusing dog kicker. Who knows.

    Its the stupid 'as a chunk of bark' employers who are walking into this nightmare with their eyes wide open. Good luck boys relying on Facebook for a reference for potential employees. I wouldn't rely on it to know for sure if my best friend is going to a movie this weekend or not.
    • Create multiple personnas

      How do know that sociopaths and paedophiles have not already done that?

      As you write, employers would be stupid to believe something because it appears on Facebook.

      In all, I think we need to take a more generous attitude towards people. Perhaps we can take a leaf from the Japanese, where what is said while drunk is disregarded, because they know that work is so stressful that of course one is not going to like it all the time, and needs some release without consequences.

      However, the US has so much unforgiving social norms that people are 'forced' to pretend they are the perfect examples of moral uprightnes, whereas very, very, very few can actually be that. Just look at all the polititians who claim to be moral Christians to appeal to the unrealistic expectations of their constituents, but who turn out to feed their supressed desires in secret, and then get sprung and suffer public humiliation, just because they are human.

      And we know how well the unrealistic pretence of chastity has afflicted the priesthood.

      Time to allow people to be human, to have an outlet for being silly, and of having given over to the excesses of youth, without condemnation.

      And if you have a propective employer that thinks Facebook is a more important evidence of character than actual working experience, then you are at the wrong workplace.

      Of course, if you continue to publicly display compromising pictures of yourself, then perhaps you need to be quaranteened from any workplace.