Facebook has warned employers who ask job applicants for their site passwords that they are breaching its terms and may run into legal problems over the practice.
Facebook has warned companies against asking job applicants for their login details to the social-networking site.Image: CNET UK
In a blog
post on Friday, the company's chief privacy officer, Erin Egan,
noted a "distressing" increase in reported demands for login details, and pointed out that Facebook's
terms and conditions explicitly ban users from giving their
passwords to anyone else, or from soliciting other people's passwords.
The practice of demanding access to a Facebook profile or private details by a third party "undermines
the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the
user's friends", she noted.
The issue has heated up in recent weeks, with reports
of major companies urging job applicants to surrender their passwords.
However, such requests may cause problems for prospective employers that they are not anticipating, according to Egan.
"If an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a
protected group (eg. over a certain age, etc.), that employer may open
themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that
person," Egan said.
"Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for
reviewers to handle private information. If they don't — and
actually, even if they do — the employer may assume liability
for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing
what responsibilities may arise based on different types of
information (eg. if the information suggests the commission of a
crime)," she continued.
Asking job applicants for passwords is not in itself unlawful in the UK, according to Ed Goodwyn, partner in the employment team at law firm Pinsent Mason.
This disturbing practice represents a grave intrusion into personal privacy.– US senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer
There is also unlikely to be a breach of the Data Protection Act if the applicant hands over login details willingly, he noted. However, Goodwyn agreed there are some risks for prospective hirers.
"If the employer relies on a protected characteristic which is
apparent from the Facebook pages (such as that the candidate is a
trade union activist, is disabled, etc.) then that will be unlawful," Goldwyn said.
"Furthermore, once the employment relationship is formed, any further
use of Facebook in this way without further permission from the
employee would be a breach of the implied duty of trust and
Companies could also face legal problems if they treat a worker less favourably for refusing the request, he noted.
Calls for an investigation
In the US, the issue has been taken up by two senators, who have called for a
federal investigation. In a
statement on Sunday, US senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles
Schumer said collecting personal information such as "communications, religious views, national origin, family history,
gender, marital status and age […] under the guise of a background
check may simply be a pretext for discrimination".
"This disturbing practice represents a grave intrusion into
personal privacy that could set a dangerous precedent for personal
privacy and online privacy, make it more difficult for Americans to
get jobs, and expose employers to discrimination claims," the Democrat lawmakers said.
The senators asked the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether
such demands are in breach of federal law.
According to reports, businesses such as Sears are accessing applicants' profiles
via third-party Facebook apps. Sears, for example, lets candidates
log in to their job site using such an app, which can then draw
information from their profile.
In her post, Egan said Facebook will "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".
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