Facebook LogoDo those of us who use various forms of social media have an expectation of privacy when it comes to job applications? Can employers force current employees to turn over login user names and passwords to social media platforms?

Recently, a controversy has arisen when it was revealed that employers have begun asking prospective employees for login information as a condition of employment.  Of course, members of Congress immediately stepped in with legislation to prevent this practice.

All of us who use social media of any type are used to what is known as granularity. This is the idea that we can choose who sees our information and how much they see. There are public and private portions to our profiles and other data. We have the ability to restrict who sees various postings.

The fact that current and prospective employers wish to comb through our private lives is chilling. If this practice is allowed, nothing will be private. Our entire lives will be open to exposure.

No one is perfect. We all have things that we would rather not expose to the light of day. Minor and major embarrassments occur in everyone’s lives. Mistakes or foolishness that took place five, ten or twenty years ago, really should have no bearing on our behavior in the here and now.

Human Resource personnel who require logins as a condition for consideration of employment are on purely fishing expeditions. What could they Password Controversypossibly find out about a prospective employee that cannot be discovered on a Google search, a resume or an extensive interview?

Facebook with upwards of 750 million users has leaped into the fray with both feet. In a recent blog posting, Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, responded to recent news reports of employers “seeking to gain inappropriate access” to the social media profiles of job applicants and employees. She also said that Facebook would “take action to protect the privacy and security” of users and consider “initiating legal action” where appropriate. You can read her complete statement here.

Facebook has stepped into this controversy as reports of so-called “social media background checks” are becoming more prevalent. In 2009 the city of Bozeman, Montana asked job applicants for login information. “Please list any and all current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.”

After a poll that found that 98% of the respondents believed the city’s policy had amounted to an invasion of privacy. Bozeman later dropped the requirement until it conducted a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice.

Have employers become password hackersThis doesn’t stop Human Resources professional from seeking information on applicants from publicly available information on the Internet. Microsoft commissioned a research survey in 2010 on this very subject. The survey revealed:

  • 79 percent of HR professionals surveyed in the United States reported reviewing information found on the Internet when examining job candidates.
  • 84 percent of HR professionals surveyed in the United States categorized online reputation information as one of the top two factors they considered when reviewing a comprehensive set of candidate information.
  • 70 percent of HR professionals surveyed in the United States had rejected a candidate based on online information, with the top factor for rejection being unsuitable photos and videos online.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) offered an amendment that would have let the Federal Communications Commission prevent employers from forcing workers to reveal their Facebook passwords. In an almost straight part line vote, it was voted down with only one Republican voting with all of the Democrats. The defeat was noted by The Huffington Post only.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee and Technology, told Democrats that the provision doesn’t “protect the consumer.” “There are many of us who after this debate concludes and moves on, would be happy to work with you on legislation because I think this is a real issue that we all share, and that is protecting privacy,” Walden said. “This doesn’t do that.”

Walden also referred to the time-lapse between when the FCC writes a rule and when it is published. “In fact, you could open the door where they (the FCC) could allow employers and licensees to go after your stuff and you wouldn’t know until they published the rule,” he said.