The big explosion of concern and outrage over reports some employers have been “requesting” (more like demanding) that job seekers provide their Facebook password has led to several states considering legislation to make the practice illegal. Even if these laws–and more like them–actually pass, they might not protect your privacy as much as you think. A short article by Gloria Goodale, “Give me your password,” explains why this might be the case (The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, April 23, 2012).
According to the article, “there are many ways to get information from applicants’ social media without demanding their passwords” (a statement made by Kabrina Krebel Chang, an assistant professor at Boston University.) What are some of those ways? For starters, suppose some of your friends of friends of friends…are connected to, even working at, companies where you are applying and interviewing. There’s apparently nothing to stop those people from giving the company access to your Facebook page. Chang also points out that if there aren’t direct Facebook friends, you might be a friend of other pages or have liked other pages that will give people access to information about you.
Charles Palmer, executive director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University, is quoted in the article as saying that “human resources departments will simply switch to sending ‘friend requests’ to applicants….It’s a little less overt and completely legal….” Of course, if you receive such a request, you’re free to ignore or decline to accept it. However, it’s nearly impossible to predict the effect this might have on your candidacy at that company.
As I’ve said before, you need to be alert to what you are posting on social media sites, what you are commenting on (and how), and a host of other considerations related to your online/social media presence. That’s true whether or not you’re engaged in a job search at this moment. Basically, anything you post/share online could somehow become public knowledge, whether you know it or not. You can’t rely on legislation to protect you and prevent employers from mining your “private” online interactions. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility. Yes, you can maintain restricted-access settings for your Facebook and other accounts, but under certain circumstances that might be inadequate. Better still, of course, you can refrain from posting/commenting anything anywhere that you wouldn’t want to have come back on you. If you’ve taken these basic steps, the rest might be “in the lap of the gods.” Full control or protection is probably an unattainable goal.