Rants and other Irrelevant Noise

March 25, 2012

Asking for a Job Applicant’s Facebook Password: a discriminatory hiring practice?

Laws don’t apply to us because, um, computers. Where have I heard this one before…

I remember my freshmen year of college and sitting in a big introduction to college class…you know, that one all of the freshmen are required to take. I remember a speaker who came in and went into a ten minute topic on the dangers of what you put on social networks. She told us – with a big smile mind you, almost in a sick, sadistic way – that employers are allowed to ask you for your Facebook password, and you were required to hand it over, and that’s the way the world was and there wasn’t a single thing you could do about it.

But as we are beginning to discover, this practice may in fact be exceptionally illegal – illegal to the point where it has eroded some of the most basic of equal opportunity protections that have ever been granted in this country.

After a recent blog post from a young individual regarding an experience of nearly being coerced into providing his credentials to an HR manager, for an inspection of his profile that involved the computer screen facing away from the owner of the profile, civil liberties groups have begun to draw light to this practice that has been occurring as day to day business within American human resources departments for several years now.

But that was exactly the kind of light that this problem needed, as it shines light into a dark loophope around fundamental equal opportunity hiring rules – a loophole that was created under that old managerial assumption that “well it’s on a computer so regular laws don’t apply here ever.”

Let’s start at the very top. The very least of the ramifications of this practice. Facebook’s own policy states quite clearly that giving out the credentials to your account to anyone is a violation of the site’s terms of service. So the worst that happens at this point is that a few kids applying for jobs are warrant to have their accounts deleted by Facebook. Okay, a little bit of collateral damage. We can deal with that.

But why, then, are United States senators petitioning the attorney general to begin a formal investigation of this practice?

Well let’s think about this for a second. How devoted are people to their Facebooks? I’d say to a pretty high degree – it becomes the social newsfeed of everything that person likes: bands, restaurants, … people, … political affiliations, … personal opinions and religious views? Wait a minute, aren’t these all things that employers have never been allowed to ask for?

And here it comes, the same defense the woman from my class rebutted with: “Oh but if its on the internet its always public and anyone can see it so you set yourself up to let it be seen!”

Please pardon the language, but shut the fuck up. Seriously.

If you require my password in order to circumvent my privacy settings that I have set in order to control who has access to information I do not want employers to know, then it is not public. It is no different than if you were to invade my house and hold me in duress while you made photocopies of my mail.

So now you are an HR manager and you have all of this information of people’s membership in groups protected under the law, and you just can’t understand why everyone agrees that the practice is fundamentally unethical. And due to civil petition, senatorial investigation, and threats from Facebook that they will prosecute employers who violate their terms of service…which is also covered under several laws pertaining to illegal access of computer systems already…I believe that we are about to find out that this practice is thoroughly illegal.

Better get the popcorn ready, equal opportunity issues are a hell of a show in this “free” country…hopefully they throw a few people in jail over this one.