Big Brother demands your Facebook privacy for a job

Employers are demanding access to your Facebook profile and that of your friends creating a potential data-mining bonanza for the private or public sector employer.

CHICAGO, March 24, 2011 — What’s a job seeker to do? There are 12.8 million unemployed people in the U.S. filling out job application after job application, trying to land a paycheck. The lucky ones get called in for an interview. The interviewer cannot, by law, ask about your marital status, your religion, or a whole slew of other forbidden topics.

What they can ask you for, however, is your Facebook password.

Facebook’s Terms of Service, as well as our own common sense, dictates that passwords should never be shared. Employers, however, want to know as much about job candidates as possible before they commit to hiring. It is easier to not hire someone than it is to fire that person. It is common for employers to view Twitter accounts and Facebook pages before extending a job offer, but what do they do if the applicant “only shares some information with friends?”

Some companies will ask you to “Friend” a human resources contact. Some will ask you to log into a company computer during your interview. And some will simply ask for your password.

Currently the practice is most prevalent among public agencies. Corrections Departments want to know if prospective employees have any gang member Friends before hiring them as prison guards, and an Illinois Sheriff’s Department wants to ensure there is nothing on an applicant’s Facebook account that would cause “embarrassment.”

How safe is Facebook?

A few states, including Illinois and Maryland, have proposed legislation that would stop public agencies from asking for passwords, but the public sector is not the only place doing so. Sears, Inc. allows job seekers to log into their job site through Facebook.

Doing so, however, allows a third-party application to draw information from your profile, including your friend list. And as the competition for jobs grows, more companies are using applications such as BeKnown to screen candidates.

BeKnown will only share your personal profile if you allow it, but in today’s job market it can be difficult to tell a potential employer “No.” 


Facebook is strongly opposed to employers asking for your login information. Their main argument is that giving people your password not only allows access to your information, but also to anything to which your friends have given you access. If your child or aunt or best friend has allowed you to view their private page, giving out your password also gives away access to their pages.

Of course, Facebook does exactly the same thing when their downloaded apps grant them access to Friends’ info. Their Data Use Policy (the new name Facebook chose for their former “Privacy Policy” when they realized privacy has nothing to do with Facebook) clearly states that “When you or others who can see your content and information use an application, your content and information is shared with the application.”

Job seeking at Sears via Facebook?

In other words, even if your page is “private,” a Friend who uses the Birthday App has given Birthday App access to your info, whether you use the app or not. But as far as Facebook is concerned, it is wrong for you to share your password, and it is wrong for employers to ask for it. There is “privacy,” and then there’s “Data Use.”

Employers need to be careful as well. A lot of those “forbidden questions” mentioned above are answered on Facebook pages. If a company decides not to hire someone after being given a password, they had better be sure it wasn’t because she is a single mother of young children, information they would not have had without the password.

While employers might start thinking twice about asking for passwords, job seekers in the meantime have to weigh the risks. Having to choose between privacy and a paycheck is a difficult position to be in, especially when the privacy in question is not just yours, but also that of your friends and relatives.

The courts found a way around the issue of privacy when it comes to social networking sites, but employers do not need to look for loopholes. They have all the leverage they need. If you don’t want to hand over your password in exchange for a paycheck, one of the other 12.8 million people looking for work probably will.  

To contact Julia Goralka, see above. 


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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

Contact Julia Goralka

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