Why a business only hurts itself by demanding Facebook passwords

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.

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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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14 comments
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  • Idealism and Naivite

    If you are going to work for me, I will do my darnedest to figure out what you are REALLY like. What you post on-line is a good source of information to that end. Sterilized resumes and references are not very helpful, which is why the majority of jobs are filled through personal connections. If you don't want me to find out, don't post it on line.

    Report back after you have been unemployed for a few months and are facing losing you home and you have a sick child and no health insurance. I bet your "idealism" and "principles" will be long gone.
    D.T.Long
    • I'd reply the same way

      NO ONE is getting my FB password. Why are you so hellbent on getting someone's FB password? The alternative is for the CEO, the shareholders, the managers, and everyone who's decisions will affect my employment to give up their FB passwords to me so I can determine if they are sociopathic nutjobs.
      NonFanboy
    • Well, if you want mine...

      ... Then I hope you don't mind me asking for financial records, e-mails, Intranet logon credentials, and other private company information. I too, would like to know what you're *really* all about.

      No? Ok, then. The matter is settled.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Unless you both are....

        being chased by headhunters for your extraordinary experiences and skill sets, you are just another piece of paper in a big pile (shall we say a couple of hundred?) of resumes. I bet you I'll find a qualified applicant in that pile who will be more than happy to share the information I am looking for, one way or the other.

        Happy job hunting
        D.T.Long
      • D.T.Long

        Any company asking for personal log-on information, will not be getting my skills. Simply put, you are what's wrong with world today, you see, your workers are more than just a piece of paper in a pile, or a name on a resume. Your workers are what makes up your business, and if you don't treat them as people, but as property, judging them for every action they have made in their lives, well, then you're quickly going to find yourself in the hole when they start leaving for better oppertunities where they will be cared for as such.

        If a potential employee doesn't want to share a password, then that is their perogative. If you can't respect that, than just as this article suggests, I can't respect your business.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Missing the point entirely

        @Cylon Centurion

        I have said NOTHING to give you ANY idea of how I would treat you as a worker once hired. I would probably treat you better than most other employers. I understand what motivates people. All I am saying is that I want to know who you really are before I let you into my business and start treating you well.

        Chances are that if you have a life/personality documented on Facebook (or elsewhere on the web) that you are trying to hide from me, you are NOT the kind of person I would want in my company and treat well. You can take your dark side (or privacy) with you and go and work for someone else. Eventually, that dark side will likely surface in the work place, and I do not want it to be mine. Nobody can be on their best behavior all the time.

        When you are dating/engaged, you see one side of the person. After you have been married for a while, you see the whole picture, warts and all. I want to get to know you a bit better before I "marry" you. If you protest, you can go somewhere else thank you.
        D.T.Long
      • That's just the thing...

        @D.T.Long

        Define "dark side". Are you going to pass me by because I might enjoy going out to the bar and relax for a bit with my friends? What if I express a political opinion you might not like? Or side on the oppoiste side of an issue you might not agree with?


        I'm not going to hide the fact that I am on the Internet, but what I do there is no one's (work, school, etc) business. Besides, if you have a potential employee that is dealing with forbidden business, obvisouly, they're not going to be broadcasting it on Facebook or Twitter.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • D.T.Lang

        What would happen if the applicant didn't have a Facebook account? I'd assume you wouldn't believe them and not give them the job.
        Sounds like a new form of discrimination to me.
        bmiles85
    • I just go elsewhere

      Give it up or I just respectfully decline and end the interview and post out a waning this is a guy you don't want to work for. Remember interviews go both way. This say you are heavy handed and not leadership material.
      Just remember in a capitalist system there plenty of other opportunities for me to apply my trade to your competitors.
      Scatcatpdx
      • I've always looked at myself a a business of one...

        And at every interview I've ever been in I'm interviewing my potential business partner as much as he/she might be interviewing me. I've never seen a situation where I considered myself as the lesser of the two parties nor have I ever considered an employer to be the greater of the two of us. A great deal of power is an illusion. The so called power that employers have is in fact an illusion and it is we who control our destinies not they. We who put ourselves into debt to purchase stuff we may not need but certainly WANT. Every employer I've ever had was a terrible flawed human being much like myself nothing more nor less. Due respect as a human being certainly but no more than I give every other human being i've ever met or dealt with. They hire me to do a task and it is NOT charity so I do not have to be grateful for being hired they did not do that out of charity they NEEDED someone to do the job and they made the judgement that I would do. I don't owe them anything but a job done well.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
    • When I was a lad I thought long and hard about these

      subjects what with being diabetic and all I knew the health care system in this country represented a serious threat to my continued existence. So I was limited to jobs that provided health care as a benefit and i refused as much as possible to ever have my situation used against me. So I limited my responsibilities, rent only no house, no wife, and certainly no kids. Then as time passed I figured with a growing list of diabetes related ills I could go on disability if needed and when the recession hit and i lost my job and no jobs were to be found I went with that option. As for you finding out everything you can about me... Good luck with that. Because of the way I designed my life from the start I don't actually NEED any job you might offer and "IF" I were to ever have taken a job with you you'd find out quickly enough I'm very cavalier, and care free about just about anything and any attempt to pressure me would be met with a scoffing like sound and a back turned towards you as I walked away giggling at the thought of what you were attempting to me of all people:) I don't need you and I did that by design.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • Forget employers

    I walk away from any company that wants me to logon to their site with a facebook account. Right at that moment, they have no hope of ever getting my business.
    happyharry_z
  • generation of dis-illusionists

    oh pleaze.... only in your fantasy dreams.

    unfortunately, business's do not suffer with asking / demanding for the password.

    there reputation is not affected in any way, shape or manner.

    ultimately, all employees (and prospective employees) have to play ball.

    if not, then they will be fired or denied promotions or for the job seekers - unhired.

    people eventually have to come to an understanding, that your personal lives should not be posted on the internet - period.

    people should not have facebook accounts with their real identities. if anything, they should have accounts with nicknames shared only to their friends and families.

    but if people want to make their lives open to the public, then denying the right for their employers to also view "that open-ess" is selfish and suspicious.
    databaseben
    • Nonsense

      databaseben --

      You say, "if people want to make their lives open to the public, then denying the right for their employers to also view "that open-ess" is selfish and suspicious."

      The problem with this is that most responsible social networking users do NOT make their lives "open to the public." Instead, they restrict their posts and responses to the list of friends they choose. Employers should have no more right to access private online communication than they do to tap the home phones of their employees.

      I [i]do[/i] respect employers' right to monitor employee usage of company hardware/software/bandwidth, however: employees must understand that their privacy rights do not extend to actions performed on an employer's equipment while "on the clock."

      What employees do on their own time, using their own devices, however, is NONE of an employer's business. People everywhere need to demand a definite separation of "job" and "personal life" ... the more privacy and overtime we surrender to an employer, the more we lose of ourselves, and the more they'll expect in the future.
      Churlish