April 19, 2012

Facebook Dilemma: Good Companies Don't Ask You to Do Stupid Things

From the time you were old enough to talk you have been told not to give strangers your name, address, or phone number. You were not even supposed to talk to strangers when you were a kid.

When you were old enough to work you were admonished not to give your Social Security number to anyone who didn't have an absolutely verifiable reason to have it.

You wouldn't even think about giving your bank pin number or email passwords to anyone including your mother.... Especially your mother!

Now tell me why would anyone consider giving his or her Facebook password out? That would be the heighth of stupidity. How many stories about former girlfriend/boyfriend trashing do you need to hear to know what a bad idea that is?

And yet companies are now asking potential employees to give up passwords to Facebook accounts so they can go fishing for dirt and examples of irresponsibility on your part.

The news is rife with the story. The Sac Bee reported on it on April 16th. On a March 28th post, California State Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco/San Mateo introduced a bill in the California Legislature to "prohibit employers and colleges from formally requesting or demanding employees, applicants, or students provide their social media user names and passwords". Shortly after the CA senator announced his bill, SB 1349, the US House of Representatives, in their infinite wisdom, blocked a federal bill on the issue. (Who exactly do they work for?)

This is an absolute outrage. If you are asked for your user names and passwords, just say no! This is not brain surgery. You have a right to privacy. You have a right to keep your passwords to yourself. NO ONE SHOULD BE ASKING YOU FOR YOUR FACEBOOK PASSWORD. Do you really want to work for a company that thinks nothing of invading your privacy in that manner?

Now, having said that, it is also not brain surgery to note that anything that is searchable on the web is open season so be careful about what you put out there and sanitize what is already up on the web. Your employability depends on your reputation so lets keep it clean.

What does Facebook say?

I spoke with Dave Ferguson, CSUS Computer Science Alum, and engineering manager with Facebook. Dave shared Facebook's policy and he told me that this is a major concern for Facebook. The increasing number of employers requesting social media passwords from desperate job seekers caused Facebook to initiate a new policy on the subject.

    "As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don't know and didn't intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That's why we've made it a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password."

    We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's the right thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person.

    While we will continue to do our part, it is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves, and we will do our best to protect that right." Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy


What do employers say?

I polled all of the 71 companies who attended Career Day 2012 on March 2nd. I asked does your company have a policy on asking for passwords and I asked if there is a legitimate reason for asking for a candidate’s password(s)?

I got an amazing number of responses to the question. These are the companies who hire our candidates. They want to make it clear that they most definitely do not violate the privacy of potential or current employees by asking for passwords. Condemnation of the practice was unanimous. No companies who responded have yet established a policy but every single company said they would not ask for your Facebook password and every single company representative said they consider asking for passwords intrusive if not offensive. I got an earful. Here is a sample:

Allison Pratt, Recruiting Coordinator, CGI
    "If someone is concerned with the way an applicant is portraying themselves on Social Media sites, I understand. We are a consulting firm and it is very important that we and our employees maintain a professional presence for our current and potential clients. However, there are ways to look into this without asking for passwords. If a company was that insistent, I would understand them asking an applicant to "like" the company's page so that the page’s administrator could view their profile, but there is no legitimate reason to ask for a password."


Tim Lewis, Staffing Manager for McCarthy Building Companies said it best,
    "Personally, I’ve tried to follow the simple rule of: If I wouldn’t want my mom to hear or see something, I probably shouldn’t post it. Professional athletes are all being coached on how to manage social media and their image. Students should probably be coached with a similar type of message as they are going through school."


Jon Heinrich, Human Resources Manager at Miranda said,
    "I don’t believe that asking for a Facebook password is appropriate and boarders on personal infringement. At the very least it says a lot about the company and how they respect people. I think it will become an issue eventually tested in the courts. "

    "I also think that students need to use better judgment about what the post and say. Freedom of speech is protected, but poor judgment is not. An employer should use proper methods of doing a reference and background checks, but an internet search is easy and can reveal information a student may not want found. "

    "Miranda does not use or ask for Facebook information. We prefer the interview process as our primary way of selecting candidates. Typically an engineering candidate will have between 3-5 technical interviews. We let them know there will be technical interviews in advance so they can prepare mentally for them. They have been effective in helping identify the best match. I am also of an older generation who don’t use Facebook so I am less likely to see the value in something others can hack, post negative things about people and misuse."

    "We do use LinkedIn to find people and get a feel for their skills/work history. It is a very job related site and managed much more professionally by participants and employers."


When you become employed... do not use the company computer for your twitter or Facebook activities!

It seems like common sense but common sense is not all that common...

Pat Gordon, Human Resources Manager of JBT FoodTech said,
    "An employee who does use their company laptop or desktop and server to communicate via Facebook or Twitter, is notified ... that if they do so on a company asset we may see it and what is communicated on it."


Privacy settings are an important part of your web presence for your Facebook account and all other social networks you have a presence on. Remember- if you give someone your password... they are going to see your chats too... So it will not matter what your privacy settings are if you leave the door unlocked. While you are giving out your password, be sure to give them the key to your apartment and your bank pin number.

After 38 years of career counseling, I thought I had seen it all... This is an all new low in employment prescreening techniques.