Commentary: Demanding Facebook passwords hurts job candidates and employers

March 28, 2012

A heated debate has emerged over social media users’ right to privacy stemming from recent reports of corporations and government agencies asking potential applicants to surrender their Facebook login credentials during job interviews.

 This issue is about to reach a tipping point where we could witness serious litigation brought forth by job candidates against the interviewing organizations.  Furthermore, demanding Facebook logins may lead to new legislation placing restrictions on employers’ ability to invade the privacy of job candidates and workers. This week, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to launch a full investigation into this practice.

 Demanding these credentials represents the ultimate transfer of personal privacy, especially before the candidate is an official representative of the organization.  Moreover, these actions can have severe legal backlash and can ruin the reputation of the firm that asks for this information.

 Social media have become thoroughly ingrained into our everyday lives and the reality is we oftentimes project an overall impression through our Facebook profiles.  This impression and transparency are being leveraged to form a conclusion which is why employers demand such information.

 Facebook has spoken out against this act and can ultimately take the lead by temporarily banning a company’s business page that is found to violate this.  Since Facebook has been a consistent name in the “privacy concern” discussion multiple times in the past six months, this stance can help the company reestablish its integrity.

 Privacy concerns have skyrocketed this year as savvy consumers continue to discover ways companies, including Facebook, Google and Apple, discretely gather various information from their users.  Google has been dealing with anti-trust litigation since late 2011.  Even Apple has been subpoenaed and asked to change the way it gathers user information on its iOS devices.

 Given the amount of buzz and massive debate of online privacy in 2012, this could serve to be the final push needed by legislators to enact social media privacy laws, a topic that has been suggested in the social media community for some time but lacked strong support until now.

 Eventually, we will continue to see strengthening of support from legislators in Washington that could push for strict privacy laws banning this practice and calling for penalties on agencies that violate social media privacy concerns.

Kenneth C. Wisnefski is an online marketing expert and founder and chief executive of WebiMax, an online marketing agency in Mount Laurel, N.J.  His firm specializes in search engine optimization, reputation management, search engine marketing, pay per click management and social media marketing services.

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