Science is Beautiful Blog

Social Media and the Right to Privacy

Posted by Kristin Hickey

Apr 5, 2012 4:48:00 PM





As if going through the process of finding a job isn’t hard enough, employers are increasingly turning to the social media space to do background checks, and even asking potential employees to hand over their log-in information in order to check out their profiles. This practice has become a source of debate for many people who argue that it is an invasion of privacy.

Due to the rise of social networking, it has become common practice for employers to search publicly available Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts of prospective applicants. However, many users have their Facebook profiles set to “private,” making themselves viewable to only specific networks of friends.  

I have no problem with someone searching for my Facebook profile or Twitter account, but cannot think of any really good reason as to why a potential employer would need to have my Facebook log-in information.  I agree that it is a blatant invasion of privacy and similar to letting someone go through my personal diary, or have access to my personal email account. Where is the line?

The PR implications for companies engaging in this behavior are potentially disastrous. If an employer can’t respect that an employee has a life outside of work, that’s not a company I would be willing to work for.  Another aspect to this is the fact that people who are desperate for work in these trying economic times might not necessarily be in a position to refuse to hand over their log-in information, despite being against it. Companies engaging in this invasion of privacy are at risk of being seen as “Big Brother,” or taken to court.

Facebook has in fact issued a statement regarding this practice and has urged people not to hand over their log-in information to employers who ask for it. Facebook argues that not only does this compromise the privacy of the user, but the privacy of that user’s friends who believe they are posting within their network in confidence.

 This brings to light the legality of the practice. As USA Today states, while asking for anyone’s Facebook log-in information violates their terms of service, these terms have questionable legal weight, and experts argue that the legality of asking for this information remains a bit unclear in the USA. However, in the United Kingdom, it would potentially put employers in breach of the Data Protection Act, as it would constitute “excessive” information about an individual.

Anybody can Google publicly available information to find out whatever they can about job applicants; that’s just thorough research. But requesting private information like somebody’s personal Facebook account is without a doubt an invasion of privacy.

How would you handle it if you were asked for your Facebook log-in information during an interview?

Topics: social media, facebook, twitter, privacy, employer, employees, interview


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