Did you ever think you'd see the day when Facebook piped up for its users' privacy? Well, it has happened: Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan says the emerging trend of employers asking applicants for their Facebook passwords is "inappropriate" and exposes the employer to "unanticipated legal liability."
Egan wrote a lengthy post on this over at Facebook on Friday, and it's quite an interesting read. That note also includes this sentiment, which should surprise anyone who still thinks Facebook doesn't respect its users' privacy: "Facebook takes your privacy seriously. We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges."
I wrote about this development last week, before Facebook weighed in. Inc. Well's own Andrew Schrage also wanted to weigh in, speaking more from the employer's point of view and offering advice to applicants.
I happen to think this is indeed an invasion of privacy, but as it becomes more prevalent, applicants may feel they don't have a choice.
I think the practice highlights one key point: Your online actions and the image you present have real world consequences. Therefore, think twice before posting photos of yourself partaking in activities that may compromise your integrity in the eyes of others. Posting photos of yourself during last weekend's bar-hopping may be entertaining for your friends, but could do serious damage when it comes to your present or prospective employer. Also, it's never a good idea to rant or vent about your current job, boss, or company on social media websites. If you have an issue, take it up with your supervisor directly.
Having said that, though you may feel pressured to compromise the privacy of your Facebook page, do not give in so easily. Although the job market is tough, if you feel strongly against the idea of relinquishing such private information, withdraw your application and look somewhere else. At the very least, question the interviewer as to why they need that information. If you do decide to reveal it, be sure to change your password shortly thereafter.
The issue gets clouded somewhat in regards to public service jobs. If someone landed a job as a police officer only to find out months later there was compromising content on his Facebook page, the agency could be put in an embarrassing situation. Therefore, in limited instances, I can see the necessity to implement these measures as part of the job application process.
Furthermore, one potential upside to it from a job applicant's standpoint is you'll immediately show your prospective employer that you have nothing to hide, that you're mature, and that your online activities are just as moral and upstanding as those in your everyday life. You can use the opportunity as one small way to separate yourself from your fellow applicants.
One thing you can do to proactively address the issue is to carefully go through your Facebook account and eliminate or delete anything that shows you in a potentially undesirable light.
Also, while it's perfectly reasonable to use Facebook to socialize, you should also view your account as a “resume” of sorts. Therefore, choose your Facebook friends as wisely as you do those in the real world, and keep your comments on other people's pages professional and respectful at all times.
Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers is a graduate of Brown University, and originally from Boston but currently living in Chicago, which is an awesome city despite its awful winters. With some quality guidance from his parents and older siblings, he always strived to be financially fit (though it’s not always easy and there are always slip ups!). He majored in economics while in school and has found it to be very applicable to everyday life and useful in understanding the economy. He also gained some great investment experience previously working at a hedge fund.