ONTD Political

Job seekers get asked in interviews to provide Facebook logins

10:34 am - 03/21/2012

SEATTLE - When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.

In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.

"It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it "an egregious privacy violation."

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.

Companies that don't ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.

Asking for a candidate's password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.

Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled,

After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland's legislation.

Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.

And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff's office has been one of several Illinois sheriff's departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.

Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that "speaks well of the people we have apply."

When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said "it depends on the situation" but could include "inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behaviour."

In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff's department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch centre and for law enforcement positions.

"In the past, we've talked to friends and neighbours, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends," said Capt. Mike Harvey. "Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them."

Harvey said investigators look for any "derogatory" behaviour that could damage the agency's reputation.

E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide," said job seekers should always be aware of what's on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.

Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it's not a violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she's not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.

"I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you're dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site," she said.

More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.

Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.

Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant's work history.

The company assumes "that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently," she said.

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.

In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.

"I think asking for account login credentials is regressive," he said. "If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can't afford to stand up for your belief."


McFarland reported from Springfield, Ill.

First time posting here - I'm kinda nervous. Anyway, idk if this article belongs on ontd_political, but I thought it was interesting and thought it was worth sharing. 

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kalikahuntress 21st-Mar-2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
What the fuck, seriously I feel like I'm living in some sort of fucking bizarro land. Ok I'm Canadian but seriously it won't be long before Harper pulls this shit. Gah, I feel so awful for people who can't afford to say no to this.
anjak_j 21st-Mar-2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
I agree that for some jobs it is important for the employer to know about certain things - as an example, if someone applying to be a law enforcement officer has a gang affiliation or link to a hate organisation.

However, for most jobs this is an egregious violation of a person's right to privacy and a life outside of their place of employment. Just because you work for someone, doesn't mean that someone has the right to know absolutely everything about you. And I can think of some horrible ways in which this could be abused to prop up discrimination.

Edited at 2012-03-21 03:38 pm (UTC)
yeats 21st-Mar-2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
i'm also skeptical that the only way to learn about someone's gang affiliation or link to a hate organization is by scouring their facebook.... like, i would imagine their are alternative ways to obtain that information, especially if you're unrepentant enough to post it on facebook in the first place.
restlessgranola 21st-Mar-2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
Why don't they just lie and say they don't have one? It's not like bullshitting in an interview is an entirely new concept. Make yourself private on search and the ordeal is dealt with.

Or use a fake last name on your Facebook. I just use the first three letters of my last name.

Edited at 2012-03-21 03:40 pm (UTC)
crysania4 21st-Mar-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
This. When I eventually leave the job I'm at now, I'm going to absolutely alter my FB so it's not easily found by people who don't know me. I absolutely WILL NOT give my FB password (or worse, my LJ one as I use this for more venting) to someone. I don't have anything really private on my FB but I don't give out passwords and allow people to pry into my personal life in such a way.
benihime99 21st-Mar-2012 03:40 pm (UTC)
Smelling like invasion of privacy, looking like invasion of privacy, what can it be?
crossfire 21st-Mar-2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
A duck.

starsinshapes 21st-Mar-2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Creating a professional fb, one used only for jobs and networking, isn't a bad idea. Regardless you shouldn't be asked for personal info or forced to friend people.

I have a 3 meeting rule when adding people on fb. I have to have met and spoke with you at least 3 times before friending.
crossfire 21st-Mar-2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
That's a good rule, and I follow the same one on LinkedIn. Except in the case of first party recruiters for companies I want to work for, I'll add them back without meeting them. But otherwise yeah.
brookiki 21st-Mar-2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
This blows my mind. It's potentially a way of getting an answer to questions that the interviewer can't legally ask, like age, marital status, whether the interviewee has children, religious preference, etc... Depending on past status updates or group memberships, it could also disclose private health information. And those are just the things off the top of my head. If an interviewer is allowed to demand social networking log in info, then you've basically defeated the purpose of not allowing the interviewer to directly ask the questions.
weirdolove 21st-Mar-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
exactly why they want it
oudeteron 21st-Mar-2012 03:47 pm (UTC)

Fuck everyone who thinks this is acceptable. What part of "privacy" do these creeps not understand?
tilmon 21st-Mar-2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
Only the part that starts with p and ends with y.
booksforlunch 21st-Mar-2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
Apart from the violations of privacy everyone else mentioned for the applicant, let's not forget that it would ALSO influence those on their friendslist, with THEIR personal information open to a random third person asshole, too.
kyra_neko_rei 21st-Mar-2012 06:29 pm (UTC)

Not only personal information, either, but things like deep, soul-baring conversation about sexuality and mental illness and the like---and not only the applicant's sexuality and mental illness but their friends' experiences with such.

Utterly not okay to go handing that off to some corporate shill who is, incidentally, probably not legally held to confidentiality the way people in, say, the medical industry are. Say somebody knows a guy who happens to work this job in a company where hir ex or hir ex's best friend is interviewing, a conversation, and hey, here's a printout of a conversation with hir! Or better yet, here's the password---pretend to be this ex's friend to hir and get some current information or get a mindfuck in.

Really not good at all.
bellekid 21st-Mar-2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
I feel like now when I graduate I'm going to have to either remove most everything I did in college from my facebook or just create a professional one. Not cool.

This combined with the fact that being involved in LGBT groups is less likely to get one a job basically means I'm fucked...
mirhanda 21st-Mar-2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
My advice, take old lady advice for whatever you feel its worth, is that while this should be illegal, and I feel certain that it will be ruled illegal as soon as someone bothers to take it to court, make the fake facebook. (Fakebook?) Change your real facebook to some play on your name or something that you like or whatever. Like If my name is Mirhanda Jessamine Jones, I could make my real facebook M JJones, or Mir JJones or something like that while my fake one would be M. J. Jones.

While what these creeps are doing is probably illegal, you need to protect yourself now. You wouldn't have to in an ideal world, but frankly, we're not living in one and this one we have is getting scarier every day.
crossfire 21st-Mar-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
I maintain a carefully sanitized and active public persona on several social networks for purposes of being vetted by potential employers. I would not hand over any passwords though, that goes against every sysadmin fiber in my body.
huit 21st-Mar-2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
I would not hand over any passwords though, that goes against every sysadmin fiber in my body.

mirhanda 21st-Mar-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
This is seriously a violation of privacy. I advise everyone who has a personal facebook to use some fake name, that way they can't find you. Then you just say "I'm a luddite, I don't have one." I have a friend who works in the medical field and that person keeps a personal facebook under a fake name.

But honestly, this is like asking someone to hand over all their private correspondence and their diary and their photograph albums so the employer can browse through it.
kitanabychoice 21st-Mar-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
I read this article yesterday and the whole concept stinks. Facebook is like a spare time activity; what I do in my spare time shouldn't be of any concern to my employer as long as it doesn't affect my work ethic.

I have nothing to hide but I would never, ever give someone my facebook password as part of an interviewing process.

This sounds like companies are looking for rank-and-file employees that will be faceless/soulless and not have opinions or lives that could "reflect badly" on the company and are using this as a way to determine if they "fit."

People simply aren't that neat and tidy, no matter what you do.
archanglrobriel 21st-Mar-2012 04:42 pm (UTC)
To me, asking for someone's Facebook login is kind of like asking them to turn over keys to their house or apartment. It's also invasive of the privacy of all of the people in their network. Just because you're potentially hiring a person, that doesn't give you the right to tap their phone or read their mail and people do still have the right to their houses or apartments - you don't get to search the premises before hiring "just in case they do something illegal in their downtime" or as part of a "character assessment."
But of course, with no oversights on what they can do and their feelings of entitlement moving from "vast" to "ludicrous" the "jobs creators" are feeling pretty darn untouchable right now as they continue to push and flex and blur that distinction which separates "wage slaves" from ACTUAL slaves.
peace_piper 21st-Mar-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
If they do do something illegal in their spare time (and I'm thinking of smoking marijuana here) what business is it of theirs anyway? I'm really getting the impression that in this employers market that's going on, potential employers are really pushing the envelope on what they can get away with, violating privacy rights, drug testing, etc just because people are desperate.

And that's the real despicable thing here.
sihaya09 21st-Mar-2012 04:46 pm (UTC)
I would straight up delete my facebook before I allowed any employer that did not require a high-level security clearance to access my social media.
theguindo 21st-Mar-2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
Even when I was applying for a Top Secret security clearance, I didn't get asked to hand over any of my social networking login info.
baked_goldfish 21st-Mar-2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
Even without the massive invasion of privacy, why would I trust any perfect stranger with login information? I'm not giving my password for anything out to anyone, because I don't want them to be able to get access to sensitive (i.e. financial) information about me. Personally, all my passwords are different, I use different e-mails for different services, but not everyone does that. What happens when you give your FB login to some stranger, and they "discover" that it's the exact same login for your bank's website?
13chapters 22nd-Mar-2012 01:42 am (UTC)
EXACTLY. My Facebook password is the same password I use for a variety of other things. It's a really good password PARTLY BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS IT and I'm not giving it up to some chump in a job interview.
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