Asking individuals to provide their login credentials and/or allow access to their accounts during job interviews – or requiring them to friend people in positions of authority in organizations – constitute Digital Era worst practices that need to stop. Fortunately, the practices aren’t widespread, but they should be nipped in the bud before more organizations act on the mistaken belief that it’s okay to engage in extreme invasions of privacy in a misguided attempt to manage their risks.
Did you hear the one about employers and universities asking candidates and students to provide access to the private areas of their Facebook (and other social networking) accounts? Yeah, I wish it were a joke. Unfortunately, it’s all too true. Some employers are asking candidates to provide their login credentials and/or give them access to their accounts during job interviews, and coaches at some colleges and universities are requiring student athletes to friend at least one coach.
These practices aren’t new, but there’s been a renewed interest in them over the past few days, probably because some states have proposed legislation to outlaw the practices. Stories have been bouncing around cyberspace, and the reactions to them have been swift, universally negative and passionate. Often in cases like this the passion is born of misunderstanding rooted in a misrepresentation of the issue/facts, but this time the reality is pretty clear and the “are you kidding me?”s are based on truth.
If you haven’t seen any of the articles, here’s one from MSNBC that provides a nice summary of the practice and issues: Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords. I added a comment to this piece and others that began as follows:
I can't believe employers continue to engage in these kinds of practices. They offer the wrong solution to understandably important problems (e.g., gang affiliated corrections officers). Even for public safety positions, accessing private social networking activity is a dubious (at best) practice. I wrote about the ACLU/MD case last year in the following post:
Digital Era Employment Practices Under Fire – Again!
Even if states or the federal government don't make it illegal, it's an ill-advised tactic. And I think most employers and academic institutions will realize that it's not in their best interests, especially if they want to be an employer or school of choice.
I then added the following PS:
PS - Let me reiterate one critical component of why this is such a bad idea. This is not just about the employee or student's privacy - it's also about the privacy of everyone they're connected to, none of whom has given their permission to allow their activity to be accessed.
Helping both individuals and organizations understand their relative rights and responsibilities, I’ve written extensively about this and related issues over the past year and a half, beginning with this white paper: Social Screening: Candidates - and Employers – Beware. Here are links to additional posts:
- Social Media Policies: Necessary but Not Sufficient
- Social Media Data "Ownership": Recommendations for Employers
- More Nominees for the Digital Hall of Shame … And How to Avoid Becoming One Yourself
- Social Screening of Job Candidates: Focusing on the Facts
- Can We be Friends? In Cyberspace, "No" may be the Right Answer
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. And because I think education is critical to creating the knowledge and understanding we need to address Digital Era issues like these properly, I appreciate your sharing this post with others in your networks. Thanks!
- Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD