Employers asking job applicants for Facebook passwords

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 12:20 PM
Last updated 12:35 PM
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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.

Robert Collins of Baltimore poses for a photo Friday, March 16, 2012 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. When Collins returned from a leave of absence from his job as a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in 2010, he was asked for his Facebook login and password during a reinstatement interview, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations.   AP
AP
Robert Collins of Baltimore poses for a photo Friday, March 16, 2012 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. When Collins returned from a leave of absence from his job as a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in 2010, he was asked for his Facebook login and password during a reinstatement interview, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations.

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 behavior.”

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

“In the past, we’ve talked to friends and neighbors, 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” behavior 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.”

Comments (19) Add comment
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pat2run
0
Points
pat2run 03/20/12 - 12:04 pm
7
0
First off, this violates

First off, this violates terms of most social network policies and Second, absolutely no one should give their social media account or personal email account passwords to ANYONE. This would be like an interviewer asking if someone is pregnant or plan on having kids soon. This violates every once of privacy. Have I looked at someone's social media account when they were applying.. YES... but only viewed information that was publicly viewable. I would never dream of asking for their passwords. And... if I was applying for a job I didn't get or was terminated for not giving my private information out, I would sue the pants off the employer as should anyone else this happens to.

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 12:08 pm
1
1
Next, interviewers will be

Next, interviewers will be asking for Social Security numbers from applicants and using the numbers to steal identities of the ones they don't hire!

my.voice
5092
Points
my.voice 03/20/12 - 12:24 pm
3
0
Couldn't they have just been

Couldn't they have just been allowed to friend the fellow? Asking for his login information is paramount to giving them his debit card. For all we know, he uses the same password for both, or for his personal email and the like. I don't think an employer looking at a Facebook page is such a terrible thing, but to ask for a username and password? Personally, I think Facebook is one of the worst, if not THE worst things on the web. There are kids on it using language that should never be used, posting things that should never be posted anywhere, and doing things that aren't even legal. All in the name of "social networking". Its a dang free for all out there.

IF they are concerned about security matters, do a background screening, check references, etc. I'd hardly want to base a decision to hire on a Facebook account.

I wonder if this is written procedure or some rogue HR person doing this?

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 03/20/12 - 12:39 pm
3
2
I just thought of something.

I just thought of something. This technique could be a good screening method. You have the interviewer ask for Facebook login information. Any applicants non-discerning enough to give it would be the ones you would not consider for the job. Those refusing could pass on up to the next screen.

Cdr4500
20
Points
Cdr4500 03/20/12 - 12:44 pm
3
0
Wow Little Lamb. So you
Unpublished

Wow Little Lamb. So you support 1984 eh?

Seriously, how many brain cells do you need to understand this is not only illegal, as stated in the article, but unconstitutional...? And there better be more of us, as a citizenry, that are concerned about this issue. If you pretend it's not too big a deal and write posts that don't show too much concern, then people will just go along with it... Employers, gov't, etc. count on your saying, "I'll take it because I have kids to feed." That's BS and until we have others demanding companies do what's right, "they" will keep thinking of more ways to infringe on your rights. ARE YOU KIDDING ME...?!

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 03/20/12 - 01:07 pm
3
0
My husband doesn't have a

My husband doesn't have a facebook page, he hates facebook. Good thing I guess being that he is looking for a job.

TParty
6003
Points
TParty 03/20/12 - 02:34 pm
1
0
Cdr4500: Don't worry about

Cdr4500:

Don't worry about little lamb, he thinks people should die if they can't phony up the cash for expensive medical care. Goodbye children, elderly disabled, and folks in debt!

You're right though about "I'll take it because I have kids to feed", people are willing give up a lot to make it happen- and the problem is that it's not necessary. Of course people like Little Lamb will just say "Get another job if you don't like it" not knowing jobs are hard.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/20/12 - 04:53 pm
4
0
My response? I'll show you

My response?

I'll show you mine, if you show me yours.

How many of these same employers would give their passwords to prospective employees?

Every employer I have worked for has a strict policy about keeping passwords confidential. A potential employee who would give out a private password is likely to do the same with a business password.

Riverman1
90676
Points
Riverman1 03/20/12 - 05:01 pm
0
3
If I were looking for a job

If I were looking for a job and a potential employer asked me for my Facebook password (if I had one), my cell phone numbers, internet sites I visit, my checking account info, my religious philosophy, what I like to eat and if I would draw to an inside straight and what my fantasies are just before I doze off, I'd tell them immediately and honestly. Give me the JOB then I can posture.

twolane
191
Points
twolane 03/20/12 - 09:36 pm
0
0
my job requires a credit
Unpublished

my job requires a credit check personally i think its all bs

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 03/21/12 - 06:56 am
1
0
We run a small art company.

We run a small art company. All who wish to apply for a job please provide your debit card number and PIN.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 03/21/12 - 07:33 am
2
0
I wouldn't like it, but if I

I wouldn't like it, but if I needed the job, I would give it to them and then after the interview change it. There's nothing on mine that I am ashamed of, including my friend list. People need to wise up with SS networking stuff, it's going to bite them when they least expect it.

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 03/21/12 - 07:33 am
1
0
If companies are that

If companies are that interested in your personal background then perhaps a security clearance should be part of the criteria for getting the job, otherwise I see it as an invasion of privacy. Unfortunately we will see this more and more as the cyber world expands.

Bruno
780
Points
Bruno 03/21/12 - 07:47 am
1
1
The simple answer to this is,

The simple answer to this is, "I do that on my personal non-business related time. Given that, you do not need any of that information." or "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, ..." It is an unreasonable search of my "papers and effects" for you to have access to my Facebook page. Are you really the type of company that is against the Constitution?

Retired Army
17512
Points
Retired Army 03/21/12 - 09:21 am
2
1
It's interesting and

It's interesting and heartening to see that inteligent posters of liberal or conservative stripes can agree on the violation of Constitutional rights are involved here.

It's also disheartening to see that their are a few posters who would gladly compromise their principles to secure a job. As a former manger, I would want to weed that sort of person out of my workforce.

Your political, personal or religeous preferences are not what I'm looking for. I want to know if you can do the work and are the best person for the job. Clouding my judgement with peronal preferences that have nothing to do with ability is a diservice to our employers.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 03/21/12 - 01:59 pm
1
2
I guess with a federal

I guess with a federal retirement, one can afford such pompous drivel. If the person needs to feed his family, he may find food taste better than those lofty ideals. Just being a realist. Pride doesn't buy the milk unless the government sends your check.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 03/21/12 - 02:00 pm
1
2
:)

:)

Retired Army
17512
Points
Retired Army 03/21/12 - 12:45 pm
2
1
Wow! Do I smell a little

Wow! Do I smell a little pompous "earned entitlement envy" here?

Yup! that's got to be it. When a person works his whole life, contributing to society and in a profession that does not allow the compromising of principles and then is called pompous, why that might be the hiegth of pomposisty. But what would my pompous behind know about that? :)

Riverman1
90676
Points
Riverman1 03/21/12 - 02:06 pm
1
0
Retired Army when you were on

Retired Army when you were on active duty you had your background checked in everyway there was if you were a senior NCO or an officer. You took every kind of test that told the Army your intelligence, aptitudes and psychological bents.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 03/21/12 - 02:42 pm
0
0
Retired Army said, "But what

Retired Army said, "But what would my pompous behind know about that? :)" Yes! You got it. We have some place where we can agree.
And to answer your other question... I don't know, just how tall are you?

You are up to your neck in false assumptions and judgments today. I have no "earned entitlement envy". My father was a retired officer, and I am very pro military. Had I wanted that career path for myself, I would have chosen it or better yet, married it. Instead, my husband & I choose private business and have done very well for ourselves.

Here's the point; because you and I don't do without or have to worry about finances, doesn't mean others don't struggle with this every day. It's easy to take an arrogant and idealistic attitude when all of your needs are being met. Put someone else's boots on every now and then.

Retired Army
17512
Points
Retired Army 03/21/12 - 04:43 pm
1
0
I stand by my statement. I

I stand by my statement. I would not someone to work for me who lies to get the job.

If that is pompous, so be it.

Riverman, senior NCO with a Top Secret clearance. No compromise their either or it would have been discovered.

Riverman1
90676
Points
Riverman1 03/21/12 - 05:20 pm
0
0
Ret Army, I figured you had

Ret Army, I figured you had at least a Secret clearance. You understand what I mean then. You were checked every which way but lose. Your associates were checked. You had to answer questions about previous drug use and that included marijuana.

But no one is saying lie about anything. Like I said in my first post, I'd tell them anything they wanted to know if I wanted the job. I would interview people who had honestly indicated they used marijuana in college or something and I never once didn't approve them for Top Secret, Nuclear clearances. Because someone answers things like that truthfully doesn't mean the employer wouldn't hire him or her. As you say, you value those who tell the truth as the employer hopefully would.

Willow Bailey
20603
Points
Willow Bailey 03/21/12 - 05:22 pm
0
1
We were not discussing lying,

We were not discussing lying, RA. You changed the subject I see.

Bruno
780
Points
Bruno 03/21/12 - 06:14 pm
0
1
There is simply no parallel

There is simply no parallel between working for a company and working for the military in this case.

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