Applicant? Facebook Password, Please

Anyone going through the interview process to get a job quickly recognizes that companies often go beyond resumes and references to get a better picture of their prospective employees. Sometimes, this may involve finding publicly displayed information on the internet. Alarmingly, though, a background check or a simple Google search is apparently no longer sufficient for some employers seeking to obtain details of interest about job applicants. Recently, a number of employers have taken the intrusive measure of asking job candidates to provide their Facebook login information. This action is an example of how companies have overstepped their boundaries in the hiring process.

Of course, if such a situation makes a prospective employee uncomfortable, he or she can simply refuse to continue their candidacy or refuse a job offer from the company in question. Nonetheless, as the job market becomes more competitive, applicants should not experience such pressure to disclose personal information and this practice should be put to a stop.

However, pursuing an end to this practice is not about protecting those who may be assumed to have ethically questionable content on their Facebook accounts.  Instead, it is important to protect the right to privacy and define the line that separates basic background screening from excessive prying into a candidate’s private life.

Understandably, employers want to hire people who are not only well qualified for a position but will also represent their company in a positive light. As a result, many companies scan social media sites to gain insight into what qualities candidates for employment posses. According to a survey run by Microsoft, a whopping 70 percent of employers have declined applicants based on information found online.  It is uncertain whether the information found that disqualified a candidate from a position truly reflected his or her personal qualities but companies go by what they see.

Furthermore, this blatant invasion of privacy not only affects the job applicant, it may also put companies in a legal bind. Employers searching through personal social media accounts may find information that they are not lawfully able to obtain due to anti-discrimination laws.  Even if employers keep discriminatory questions off an application or refrain from using them in interviews, accessing a person’s Facebook account can facilitate in uncovering information such as sexual orientation, race, age, gender identity, and national origin.

If employers discover personal details that identify an applicant as a member of a protected group, they can set themselves up for accusations of discrimination in hiring practice. Companies that collect Facebook passwords from their job candidates are grappling with a double-edged sword that can and likely may be more detrimental than helpful. While accessing social media accounts may provide employers with a more complete picture of an applicant, the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit should deter companies from continuing or implementing this practice.

In addition, companies that collect the Facebook passwords of their applicants may be violating other regulations. Facebook has responded to these cases be referring the media to the network’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which makes it a violation for users to distribute login information and to access other users’ accounts.  Political figures such as Senator Richard Blumenthal are already proposing legislation to take legal actions against employers who ask for job applicants’ passwords.  If employers do not end this intrusive practice by their own solution, the public will hopefully be able to count on the government’s support.

An employer should not have access to information about what someone does during personal time through non-company-related social media. The information that an employer needs to know—like, for example, if an applicant is deficient in work ethic, honesty, or ethics—these details likely can be discovered through references, background checks, and perhaps even information that is displayed publicly on the web.

Though searching through these means may not guarantee a perfect candidate, there are few or no other methods of retrieving information on an applicant without violating privacy rights. Decades ago, companies chose employees without having the option to access their personal information on the internet. Asking a prospective employee for the key to their private lives should not be necessary today.

Although actions by Facebook and by politicians may stop employers from collecting passwords from job applicants, ultimately, the general public must protect its own right to privacy. A job applicant can choose to disclose social media login information to a prying company. However, should you come across such an employer, you should instead take a stand for privacy rights and take your skills to another company that will respect your personal life.

Dina M. Perez '15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.