When New York Citystatistician Justin Bassett was asked for his Facebook password during a job interview, he withdrew his application and walked out. When Oakville, Ontario, resident Rob MacLeod was asked for his Facebook password, he offered to log onto his profile and leave the room, only to have the interviewer refuse the compromise, subsequently coercing him into relinquishing his password. As the expansion of social media use continues to increase the scope of information that is available about applicants online, employers are now doing much more than the routine background checks and reference calls. Recent statistics show that 95% of employers search for their applicants online during the recruiting process. In the past few years, employers have taken their online search a step further; some employers are now asking applicants for their Facebook passwords.
Few would disagree that asking an applicant for their personal Facebook password would not constitute a violation of the applicant’s privacy. In addition, this request ruins the security that social media users feel they retain through controlling their privacy settings, and serves to blur the limit of what employers can ask about their applicants.
Given that social media is a relatively new phenomena, lawmakers have only now begun drafting relevant legislations. States like Maryland and Illinois have both recently proposed bills that would prevent employers from discriminating against applicants who refuse to grant them access to their social media profiles. A similar bill is allegedly being prepared by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
There are currently no laws in North America that protect job applicants from being discriminated against if they refuse to provide the interviewer access to their social media profiles. Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities outlines that users should not share their password or let anyone access their account. This agreement, however, carries no legal weight, and cannot be used to legally protect an applicant if their password was requested from an employer.
Until legislation is created to protect employees from such inquiries, an applicant can always refuse to provide this information. However, in an unsteady and weak job market, it is not likely that an applicant has the option of saying no and potentially compromising their chances of gaining the job through either receiving the distrust or the dislike of the interviewer.
Requesting an applicant’s Facebook password is disconcerting because it blurs the limits of what an employer reserves the right to ask about an applicant. If they can request a password to an applicant’s social media profile; can they ask for access to their cell phone, their travel history or their financial records? Limits have to be placed during the process of recruitment, because aside from the information that’s accumulated during routine background checks and reference calls, and the impression that’s formed of the applicant during a job interview, no further information is necessary to decide how qualified an applicant is for the job.
The exception to this rule is employers in security firms, intelligence services or government organizations, where employers routinely conduct security clearances on their applicants and employees in order to assess their fitness for the jobs.
While we await the development of relevant legislations, issues like these are a catch 22, where we call for our privacy when asked for a password, only to realize the massive amounts of personal information that we have made readily available online. In today’s digital age, our information and data is no longer limited to our hard drives, with information now being consistently submitted into cyberspace, consequently making control and privacy difficult to govern.