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Facebook and Employers: Where’s the Beef?

facebook logoI think it is very wrong for employers to demand a Facebook password so they can check prospective employees’ private pages. But for all the outrage and posturing that the notion has engendered, is this really happening? That is not so clear.

So far I have only been able to find two cases involving named employers. last year, the Maryland Department of Corrections adopted a policy of asking job applicants for access to their Facebook account. The policy was dropped after public protests and a threat of litigation. And the spokesperson for the Madison, Wis., Police Department told the Today Show that the department asks applicants to log into Facebook during the interview, but not to turn over their credentials. On the same today segment showed a job seeker named Justin Bassett who told of an unnamed employer asking for a Facebook password as part of an interview.

Certainly asking for a Facebook password seems like the sort of creepy thing a corporation HR department might do and the story has probably gotten traction because it plays to our fears. But for all the hubbub stirred up, there seems to be a stunning paucity of evidence that actual employers are asking applicants for passwords.

The House of Representatives today actually took up legislation that would have prohibited employers from demanding passwords.  The Democratic amendment to a Republican bill that would sharply constrain the power of the Federal Communications Commission went down 184-236 on a largely party-line vote. The best thing you can say about the amendment is that it was no worse than the awful bill it is attached to. Because the legislation concerns the FCC, the amendment would have given enforcement power to a totally inappropriate agency (the Federal Trade Commission handles privacy issues.) It was a bit of grandstanding that had no hope of passage, and the bill it would have been attached to is almost certain to die in the Senate.

If anyone has examples of real employers, especially in the private sector, demanding passwords from real job applicants, I would very much like to hear about it.


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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

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