no one is asking for your Facebook password

As I’ve written here before, despite what you may have read in the media recently, most employers aren’t asking job candidates to hand over their Facebook passwords.  This is not a trend. In fact, it’s extremely rare. The article that started the near-pandemonium about this so-called trend cited one single case at an unnamed company, with the rest of its evidence coming from hiring practices at law enforcement and government agencies, which have always conducted much more thorough background checks. And those examples weren’t even recent ones, in part because one of the two agencies cited had already changed its policy last year after people complained.

Yet the news has been full of frenzied reports of this “growing trend” and “widespread practice” – when in reality, it’s anything but.

You’re highly unlikely to ever be asked by an employer for your Facebook password. It’s about as likely as an interviewer asking to look in your purse – some oddball interviewer might ask it, but it’s hardly a common question or a growing trend. But if it does happen to you, you can simply say, “I don’t give out my password because it violates the site’s terms of service, although I’d be happy to send you the link to view my profile.”

That said, there are plenty of invasions of privacy in hiring, and it would make far more sense for the outrage to be focused there instead:

  • Credit checks for positions where they’re not relevant
  • Requirements to provide a Social Security number just to be able to submit an initial application
  • Demands for your salary history

The credit check problem, at least, is beginning to get a bit of attention. Seven states have now restricted the use of credit checks in hiring, and there are bills to do the same pending in several more. There’s also a bill in Congress, the Equal Employment for All Act, that would restrict the use of credit checks in hiring, and the EEOC recently filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against one large company, alleging that the company’s use of credit reports in hiring decisions disproportionately excludes men, African-American, and Latino candidates.

But employers continue to run amok over job candidates’ privacy, regularly insisting on information that they have no business asking about. And they’ll continue to do so – and even ramping up these privacy violations – until people stand up and say that it’s wrong and they want it stopped.

The outrage that’s been directed toward the Facebook passwords story should be directed toward the very real privacy invasions happening in interviewers’ offices and online application systems everyday.  That’s the real scandal, not a made-up trend that most people will never encounter.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Nyxalinth*

    I admit to getting a Facebook set up after reading someplace that employers were expecting people to have it and not believing people if they said they didn’t have one. I rarely do anything with it though, and it was the same sort of flap then as this is: a little article somewhere that made a deal out of nothing.

  2. Alex*

    Indeed, most Federal agencies which require deep background checks don’t even require Facebook passwords. They can get a better picture using other means.

  3. Anonymous*

    My mother (manager at a well-known retail chain) was asked for her email passwords to “make sure she wasn’t bad-mouthing the company to her friends” with the strong implication that she would be fired for refusing. Not sure if this is corporate policy or one extremely asinine manager, but it happens.

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