Asking For Facebook Passwords… Disturbing?

Could This Even Be Trouble For the Employer?

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Asking For Facebook Passwords… Disturbing?
[ Social Media]

This week, the Washington Post ran a story on an example of a potentially disturbing trend in Human Resources practices. They told the tale of Justin Bassett. Bassett was interviewing for a new job. In the course of the interview, he was asked for his Facebook password. Bassett refused to give it and even walked out on the interview, saying he did not want to work for a company that would ask for such personal information.

If Justin Bassett’s experience were an anomaly, a strange occurrence that most companies would not repeat, that would be one thing. But, it is becoming more and more common for employers to ask for such things. And, it doesn’t stop at Facebook passwords. Some employers are asking for Twitter and other social site passwords, as well as email passwords.

Do you think Justin Bassett was right to walk out? Tell us in the comments.

Employers Protect Themselves

It is not uncommon, and is almost expected nowadays, for employers to do comprehensive web searches on prospective employees. Companies want to know as much as they legally can find out about the people they are hiring. Is this person a habitual drunk? Does he have children? Does he have a tendency to bad-mouth his past employers publicly? Does he post potentially embarrassing material online?

Sometimes, a simple Facebook search will reveal a person’s profile, pictures, personal information, posts and comments. Especially with Facebook’s dizzying security and privacy policies and changes over the past few years, a person may not be aware of what they can hide and how. Combine that with Facebook’s incessant insistence that we “share” everything about ourselves so we can have a “better browsing experience”, and the possibility of embarrassing revelations gets almost unavoidable.

Employers who have not yet committed to hiring someone have free reign to reject their application for any legal reason, or no reason at all. They are under no obligation, generally, to explain themselves. So, any “hitches” their online search turns up could result in an application being summarily round-filed. It could be over political affiliation, lifestyle choices, friendships, opinions publicly stated, or any other reason. Employers don’t have to tell you why they “chose to go another direction”.

But, what if you’ve been careful? You’ve enabled privacy settings. You’ve insulated your Facebook and other accounts from public scrutiny. You Google yourself and run other checks regularly. Your public face is neat, even if your private life is wild. Is there some expectation that your life is your own? Can an employer rightly – or even legally – ask for your Facebook login and password so they can walk right through your meticulously set up barriers for privacy?

Justin Bassett thought not. And, he acted on his values in that case. He not only refused to grant access, but he withdrew his application and walked out. He was in that ideal position: to be able to evaluate his potential employer just as stringently as he was being evaluated. But, many people are not in a position to do that. They feel they must trade their opinions and values on such matters as privacy for a much-needed paycheck.

What do you think about an employee’s choice in such matters, when his paycheck depends on it? Tell us in the comments.

It’s A Hot Topic

The topic has come up a lot within the past few days. It has been a question that has been asked a lot on Twitter, resulting in such comments as these:

Forget the legalities, folks, if a potential employer asks for your Facebook password, you don’t want to work there. I promise. 1 day ago via TweetDeck ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

If an employer asks for your Facebook password; it’s probably not a place you want to work at. 49 minutes ago via TweetDeck ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

@TheTakeaway I would absolutely never give my Facebook password to an employer. We still have a right to privacy even in the information age 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

@mashable if my employer ever demanded my facebook password in order 2 keep my job, I wud give it to them, then promptly delete my account 50 minutes ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® ·  Reply ·  Retweet ·  Favorite · powered by @socialditto

Regarding that last comment, remember that Justin Bassett, the man who walked out of an interview when asked for his password, was talking with an interviewer who was looking his information up then and there. Having a chance to delete his Facebook account was not feasible.

What About The Law?

But, what about legality? For example, would there be any sort of possibility of discrimination accusation in challenging an employers ability to ask for such private information?

Federal Equal Employment Opportunity laws cover the following things, even in the job advertising, recruitment, testing and hiring stages:

  • harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age;
  • retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices;
  • employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities, or based on myths or assumptions about an individual’s genetic information; and
  • denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group
  • An interesting question that could someday be addressed in court is whether an employer’s insistence on finding things that a prospective employee has deliberately hidden – by enabling full privacy on the Facebook account, for example – had revealed details about the employee that could be seen as basis for discrimination.

    For example, what if an employer insisted on someone’s password, received it because the person felt they had no choice, but the search then showed that the person had an otherwise undisclosed disability, religious affiliation or racial heritage?

    A Hypothetical Employer Nightmare

    Mark has applied for a position with XYZ, Inc. He is well-qualified, educated, experienced and otherwise suited for the job. He tests well, has a fantastic résumé, loads of references and a great portfolio. His first interview with the company went well and he has received positive signs.

    During the course of one of Mark’s interviews, the interviewer asks for his Facebook password. Mark has been careful. He has enabled privacy settings and is actually only Facebook friends with about a dozen people, all very close friends.

    Mark does not like being asked for his password, but he really needs this job. So, he gives it. The interviewer opens Mark’s account. It becomes quickly apparent from Mark’s Facebook timeline that he is a Mormon and has epilepsy. This is not information that any employer would have ever asked for on an application or in an interview. But, Mark had revealed it to his closest friends in a closed forum where he had an expectation of privacy.

    If Mark is denied the job, could he argue that he was discriminated against? Could he win? Would an employer want to put themselves in a situation where they were privy to that information? Or, would an employer figure that Mark’s agreeing to provide his password must mean that he was willing to reveal such information? After all, he could have said “No”.

    What if the interviewer’s search had revealed the result of some medical test, perhaps in a private message or email? HIPAA laws do not apply to employers. But if that medical information revealed some disability, what sort of issues could that raise?

    Is there a standard for expectation of privacy, especially regarding things that an employee does not do on company computers or on the clock?

    Orin Kerr is a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor. He calls asking for access to private information “an egregious privacy violation”. He adds, “It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”

    Some employers have adapted their policies. Now, rather than asking for an interviewee or employee to proved their password, they simply ask them to log in on a computer so they can then view the profile. But, that is still ruffling feathers.

    Do you think it matters whether your password is requested or you are simply asked to log in? Let us know your thoughts.

    The American Civil Liberties Union is now weighing in on this issue. ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said:

    “It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process. People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account.”

    Robert Collins is another person who has faced this practice. Collins was a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He took a leave of absence following the death of a family member. Upon his return, he was asked to submit to a reinstatement interview. The agency asked for his Facebook username and password in order to “check for gang affiliations”. Collins complied because, as he said, “I needed my job to feed my family.”

    After the ACLU filed a complaint, the Maryland agency amended its policy to simply ask employees to log in, rather than provide their password. But, the ACLU in Maryland is pushing for a Social Media Privacy Bill. The proposal is called House Bill 964 and “would prohibit employers from requiring or requesting employees or applicants to disclose their user names or passwords to Internet sites and Web-based accounts as a condition of employment.”

    The question that is most being asked about all this is: Can they do that, legally? Perhaps another that should be asked is: Would an employer want to, given the potential discrimination accusations it could expose them to – even if that accusation is ultimately unsuccessful? Asking for Facebook passwords could lead to some disturbing consequences for both the employer and the employee.

    What do you think? Could asking for private information be a nightmare for employers?Let us know in the comments.

    Asking For Facebook Passwords… Disturbing?
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    • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

      Justin should have just refused to give-out the password “to a stranger”. He then should have engaged the interviewer rather than getting-up and walking out … that action speaks volumes about Justin’s immaturity.

    • Joons

      All I have to say is that if you do not want your information to be compromised then do not join FB.
      If you want the job give them a fake account – sorry Suckerberg some folk do have more than 1 account just for this purpose and many others.
      Honestly – quit FB – totally delete your account and get a real life.

    • Joons

      And webpronews after I posted I got a really offensive screen to “encourage” me to post on FB – NO!!

    • nettiser aust

      My response would have benn.. Absolutely Sir! “…. As long as IU can have administrative rights to all data on ther company server……”

    • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

      Justin should have just refused to give-out the password “to a stranger”. He then should have engaged the interviewer rather than getting-up and walking out … that action speaks volumes about Justin’s immaturity.
      As far as the “perspective” employer asking for the password, if there’s no law prohibiting it then why not ask, the response could be, either way, would be a revealing piece of imformation.

      • Joons

        The fact the question was asked is the pivotal issue.
        Employer asks, interviewee says no, cites constitutions, points of law etc etdc – interviewee is told “thanks we’ll be in contact”
        Just like a cold day in hell that’s going to happen
        This tactic is a technique to remove anyone who may not be a drone

    • http://astroluckindia.com kunal kaushik

      He has done right?

    • http://astroluckindia.com kunal kaushik

      He has done right?

    • http://astroluckindia.com kunal kaushik

      He has done right?

    • http://astroluckindia.com kunal kaushik

      He has done right?

    • Tom

      US government does not respect privacy, the big internet players do not, why should companies do?

    • http://www.itrustgodonly.com John P

      Even though I may have nothing to hide, employers that are asking for passwords are over-stepping their bounds. If people don’t make a stand now!, there’s no telling how far this will go. We can’t let big corporations control our lives even though people need to work. It’s going to take a good majority of the country to stop this. A person that just walks out is not going to change things because there are people who will bow down and give their soul for a job. There are many people who are not active in the Social Networks that will get the job that others have walked out on.

    • http://wp-admin.info John Mauldin

      Today’s companies are insuring that employees have absolutely no allegiance to them. We have outsourced our manufacturing, asked employees to produce twice as much effort at half the price while management is getting twice the productivity already through computer automation. I don’t blame the guy. I would have told them the same except that a long time ago I decided only I would be my boss.

    • http://www.vjchris.com Chris

      Kudos to Justin for having the courage to get up and walk out! That cannot be easy in a down economy when people are desperate for work. Under no circumstances is his private life ANY business of his employer (for the vast majority of jobs). Obviously, there are always exceptions (politicians maybe, but even they shouldn’t have to provide a password). His Facebook (Twitter, Myspace, Yahoo Email, etc) are his private and personal affairs. As for the potential employer – under what law are they operating? I can’t imagine what other laws they MUST be breaking – how many people have they asked age, race or marital status? All illegal! It’s time for America to unite, so that every potential employee walks out – and reports such practices.

    • Steve Lembo

      How totally Orwellian. Employers now want to insure that their employees are not guilty of “thoughtcrime”? Next, they will probably demand to VPN your home computer to insure your browsing and hard drive contents conform to some arbitrary standard.
      This is a warped throwback to the days of the Paternal model of employers like Heinz and Ford in the early 20th C.. They would unexpectedly drop by employees homes in the evening. If the worker was drinking, children dirty or poorly clothed, or if there wasn’t a Bible in the home, the worker was fired. Horrible yes, but at least workers had the promise of a job for life and a pension. What are the new companies offering in trade for this invasion of privacy?

    • http://www.nobsseo.com SEO Sydney

      He was totally justified in walking out of the interview. Personally I would told the interviewer to jam his job.

    • http://www.work-at-home-jobsonline.com Elizabeth

      I agree with Justin. I think he did the right thing. I find it appalling that an employer would ask for your password to anything no matter what it is FB, Twitter or whatever. I would take back my resume and politely say this job is not for me and walk out.

    • Michelle

      Absolutely ridiculous! Asking someone for their password to a social website is like asking to see their underwear – it’s personal! I would have walked out of that interview as well! Who wants to work for a company that doesn’t respect their employees privacy? Not I!

    • http://www.snapvisions.net Debra Scribner

      He was so right to walk out and that’s what I would have done too. I would never dream of asking an employee for that kind of information unless his conduct in public could destroy my company and that’s not possible so why would I even ask? Oh, did he try some sort of legal action? Not sure what that would be…. but it seems like the company is discriminating against social networkers.

    • http://simon.allanach.dk Simon

      The employer equally little right to ask for a Facebook, or any other site, password as they to access a “real” thing.

      Imaging your boss saying “I’ll need a key to your house, so I can drop past at any time I want to check that you are not saying anything bad about the company.” or “From now on we’ll have all your letters, bills, etc. sent to the office so that we can see what you’re doing.”

      Asking you not to say anything derogatory, in a public area, about the company or other employees is where the like should be drawn.

    • Linda Arthurs

      Should be unlawful! Can lead to all kinds of personal info.

    • http://www.zariaandbellas.com Lance Dzintars

      It would be in the best interest of any company to treat its employees as people first and not property. If a company demonstrates effective leadership, quality and compassion towards its customers and employees, they will find better paying customers and harder workers. Constitutional rights do not end at the door way of a company office, or business.

    • http://www.PamelaTheParalegal.com Pamela

      read my comments here: http://pamelatheparalegal.com/you-want-my-fb-login-why/

    • http://tonybertram.com Tony Bertram

      Yes he was right to walk out as would I. However, I would be filling a complaint with the labor board and seeking an attorneys advice on invasion of privacy.

    • Robert

      Next step 666 tattooed on your forehead.

    • Carol

      This story incenses me, since I did for years represent gov’t employment as an adminstrator and interviewed many many possible employees. Under no circumstances, would I ever step over such personal boundaries. The other great concern I have is not enough people understand there is a law against this -The Protection of Information and Privacy Act in both Canada and the USA!! I agree with the young gentleman, who refused and walked out, but this needs to be reported, I would believe he would have every right to make his experience public, including the name of interviewer and the company. There is no question about the values of this company, unless this is a rogue staff, which the company has yet to discover. You want to bet if this were a legitimate company, they would do something about it in short order. The caveate is to make it known. We happen to be an extremely litigious society, and unless there was some proof, this could be a very costly situation of He said She said with very little remedy. I would encourage people to have a better understanding of their rights and to always bring these situations to light.?id=2nannies

    • http://leeunderwood.org/ Lee

      You really need to take another look at the employer who is asking this question. Do you really want to work for someone like that? What else are they going to want – your Twitter account info, your bank pin number? Seriously! And yes, the employer could get into trouble, not only for asking the question but, if someone was … how shall I say … “not thinking (?)” and gave them the information, the employer could be responsible for any comments made by the employee. But again, do you really want to work for the Gestapo(?) If so, you better be sure they are not tracing your phone calls or following your girl/boyfriend. And why is there no police authorities involved in checking this? Will they wait until someone is really hurt?

    • http://gocabrera.com Adrian

      I agree with all the comments here. There is absolutely no justification or right to ask for a prospective employees login details. Why stop there. Why not also ask for credit card numbers, bank account login details etc. etc.

      I just wonder if the interviewer is ignorant of how Facebook and other social media sites work and really just wanted to be able to view Justin’s Facebook page and assumed he/she needed the user name and password to do so.

    • Hassan Malekzadeh

      Thank you very much

    • Mike Stanley

      “Do you think it matters whether your password is requested or you are simply asked to log in? Let us know your thoughts.”

      This is as shocking – that you even need to ask this.

      How has it suddenly got to the stage where there should be a debate over whether employers can read our PERSONAL EMAILS?!!

      What the f*** is going wrong with this world? We really ARE headed for a zero-privacy society with the thought police able to monitor ever single bit of our brain activity, and sod all we can do about it.

      There should be harsh laws for any employer that even asks for email/facebook (same thing) passwords, like at least two year minimum in jail if it’s ever proved.

      People should be encoraged to record their interviews on their phone or some tape device.

      It was never acceptable for employers to read any email accounts or personal letters and correspondence or listen to our telephone calls.

      Why is it suddenly becoming acceptable to people now that facebook is here? Facebook is just another version of email, another version of the ‘letter’ or ‘telephone call’.

      This is aside from the fact that anyone who ‘employs’ people would have the power to abuse people’s facebook accounts. And passwords are not meant to be written down, yet that’s exactly what would happen if you gave your password over.

      I hope all this blows over, and a law comes into effect that cracks down hard on the type of scum that would request someone’s personal passwords.

      If not, this is exactly the sort of thing that could cause an uprising, and a lot of trouble. This is EXACTLY the dystopian future that we have all been made aware of, but thought to ourselves ‘oh it’ll never be that bad’.

      Don’t kid yourselves – this isn’t just the start of a slippery slope, this kind of practise is already quite far down said slippery slope, and picking up even more speed.

      It HAS to be stamped out.

    • Martha yost

      Is it possible these HR professionals are just clueless, and what they meant to request was the interviewee’s Facebook ADDRESS because they don’t even have minimal skills as to how to find someone on Facebook?
      Sounds like it to me. If this is actually happening, why is no one actually publishing the company names?
      I’m not so sure this whole thing is actually happening. How could any HR professional truly be that ignorant?

      If it IS happening, can’t you just imagine the orders coming down from some ignorant, paranoid, delusional CEO? So funny to imagine.
      Can’t wait to see someone do the Hitler film redux on this subject.

    • Carole

      He ABSOLUTELY did the right thing. Kudos to him!

    • http://www.oceansaheadglobal.com John Richards

      The minute the subject was brought up, Justin should have asked for the request to be made in writing, then gone to a solictor! As per login spy software, there should be a custodial sentence attached for such blatant acts of arrogance by any employer which should be served by the M.D / C.E.O, lets see how keen they are for your information then!?
      Global Governance has been being developed since before most of us were born, and will continue to take a greater control of our lives until we show some true spirit and say “no more”!

    • http://freestuff4u2.20m.com/ Chuck Bonner


      A person’s passwords are there own personal business. It is that simple.

      Your Friend Chuck

    • Melody

      If a perspective employer asked me for my facebook password or ANY personal password to anything, not only would I walk out on the job interview, but I’d post all over Facebook the name of the offending employer, and blast them out of the water! No way! don’t care how much I need the job. There are better ones that don’t ask for this — it’s ridiculous and a VIOLATION of privacy. ALSO, the dude who walked out on the inerview — RIGHT ON! I’m behind you 100%!!!

    • Melody

      sure, people need jobs but if anyone puts up with this behavior, then the offending employers will think they can get away with it and keep doing it. we must stick up for our rights!

    • http://jaybeacham.com jay beacham

      Yes he was right.

    • Lloyd Sexton

      From Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities under the “safety” section;

      5.You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else.

      So besides the legal issues,and I am sure the employer would lose, if this prospective employer has a Facebook account , that company/individual is in violation and should be reported. Getting booted off FB would be a a major loss to many companies.

    • Zane

      whats next asking for passwords to your personal emails? This is a lawyers dream, ripe for a winning lawsuit, like asking would you be willing to have sex with me if you if it meant you could get a raise, I mean this is just oxymoron stuff one on one. I hate to say it but was this person/company just fn stupid or just dumb?

      I mean what they ask for would be consider invasion of privacy, not to mention against 1st amendment, also being the fact it’s illegal, I mean normally people that ask for your passwords are spammers and date thieves.

      Anyone that thinks they were right to even ask this is just an idiot. >.<

      But seriously though why is this making such a big headliner, I mean anyone that's anyone knows you can't ask that stuff, if you do hope you like being sued because that's what's going to probably end up at, probably end up at the supreme court like everything else these days do.

      Well can't wait for the whole books they make for jobs after this. lol If a person ask for your password, just say no! If someone does report them! lol

    • http://www.painlessstopsmoking.com Eric

      OFCOURSE he’s right!

      It’s a scandal that a company can even THINK of asking ANY password of a candidate or an employee.

      What’s next? Are they going to ask for your pincode too so they can check your balance?

      Just sue this moron so no other employers would get the same stupid idea.



      P.S. BTW, I run a business with employees and I would never even think of asking such personal info.

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      possword check

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