What To Do If Your Employer Demands Your Facebook Password

By now you’ve heard the controversy about employers demanding the Facebook passwords of prospective and current employees. As described on one of my favorite sites, the always irreverent Register:

…some employers aren’t happy with just seeing the public part of applicant profiles; they’re actually asking prospective employees to turn over their Facebook login and password… Other companies are requesting that prospective (and presumably current) employees “friend” HR reps or background-checkers on Facebook. Others are requiring applicants to log in to their Facebook accounts from a company-owned computer…

Facebook users, you are served
Oh, dear. I believe the technical term for this is “being served.” And the world is answering, “It’s on,” because this is stupid on a level normally associated with putting salt in one’s coffee. Sharing passwords is one of the cardinal sins of IT security. You just don’t do it. EVER.

What cracks me up is that, in my industry, this would backfire. On the contrary, it’s a great way to weed out people who have no business working in IT:

HR Person: “Could I have your Facebook username and password, please?”

IT Applicant: “No. That would violate Facebook’s terms of service, and is against the standard password rules used by every sane IT department on this planet.”

HR Person: “Congratulations! You’re hired!”

Just say no to sharing passwords
Facebook has weighed in to remind people that sharing passwords is against its terms of service, and the government’s considering the matter.

I have no beef with prospective employers searching the Internet for anything I may have publicly posted. If my posts reveal too much because I didn’t understand privacy controls, that’s my problem. (And I realize that’s not the easiest task for a lot of people, which is why I blog on Tech Tips; to help people learn the fundamentals of using their computers.)

But demanding personal Facebook passwords? Where do we draw the line? As the Reg points out:

If a company requires you to give them an intimate view of your social networking pages during the interview process, might there be something in the employment agreements that gives them the “right” to take a second, third, or fourth look – whenever they want to – after you’re hired?

And might there be something that gives them the right to scrutinize other things, like your email account, bank account, personal offline correspondence…? I have seen some companies take advantage of the current economy by forcing employees to work ridiculous hours, or take on the jobs of two or three people. People are so scared to be unemployed that they are willing to put up with things they’d never have tolerated before. Is sharing Facebook passwords one of them? Do we have to sacrifice our personal lives for the chance to scrape together a living?

What to do if your employer insists
My personal stance is unequivocal. I refuse to share passwords with anyone, employer or not, but I’m a freelancer and can pick and choose my gigs. What about those who don’t have the luxury of standing on principle? They may feel they have no choice but to violate their own privacy and allow employers access to their personal accounts.

I suspect this whole thing is going to get shot down by public opinion, but something similar could occur in the future. What should you do if you are in this situation? My advice tends towards a strong preference for saying not just no, but hell no. Do you really want to work for a company with that level of disrespect for its people? Is it one of those dungeons of despair that sucks your energy just by being there? Because I can’t imagine the morale of such a company would be very high. I’d consider it a major warning flag that there may be other reasons for staying very far away.

What do you think? Share in the comments!

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