Employers ask job seekers for Facebook passwords

Mar 20, 2012 By MANUEL VALDES and SHANNON MCFARLAND , Associated Press
Robert Collins of Baltimore poses for a photo Friday, March 16, 2012 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. When Collins returned from a leave of absence from his job as a security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in 2010, he was asked for his Facebook login and password during a reinstatement interview, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

(AP) -- When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

Bassett, a New York City , had just finished answering a few character questions when the turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.

In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.

"It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University and former federal prosecutor who calls it "an egregious ."

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.

Companies that don't ask for have taken other steps - such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on .

Asking for a candidate's password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.

Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled,

After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland's legislation.

Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.

And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff's office has been one of several Illinois sheriff's departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.

Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that "speaks well of the people we have apply."

When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said "it depends on the situation" but could include "inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior."

In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff's department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.

"In the past, we've talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends," said Capt. Mike Harvey. "Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them."

Harvey said investigators look for any "derogatory" behavior that could damage the agency's reputation.

E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide," said job seekers should always be aware of what's on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.

Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it's not a violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she's not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.

"I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you're dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site," she said.

More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.

Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.

Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant's work history.

The company assumes "that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently," she said.

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.

In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.

"I think asking for account login credentials is regressive," he said. "If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can't afford to stand up for your belief."

Explore further: New social network for teenagers experiences a growth spurt

3.7 /5 (7 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Reppler helps Facebook users look good online

Apr 06, 2011

Startup Reppler launched a service Tuesday to help people shine on Facebook pages that have become resources checked by employers, college recruiters and even potential mates.

Social networking aggregator sues Facebook

Jul 10, 2009

(AP) -- In a counter-punch to the world's biggest online hangout, a small Web company called Power.com has sued Facebook, saying it doesn't follow its own policy of giving users control over their content.

Recommended for you

Facebook goes retro with 'Rooms' chat app

23 hours ago

Facebook on Thursday released an application that lets people create virtual "rooms" to chat about whatever they wish using any name they would like.

Some online shoppers pay more than others, study shows

Oct 23, 2014

Internet users regularly receive all kinds of personalized content, from Google search results to product recommendations on Amazon. This is thanks to the complex algorithms that produce results based on users' profiles and ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sean_W
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2012
If one is dumb enough to work for an employer who thinks they own one's private life, one might as well submit a degrading sex tape of oneself with the resumé in case a perspective employer might want something to blackmail them with in the future. I know times are tough but have some damn respect for yourself.
Milou
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2012
What happens if one does not have an account?
Vendicar_Decarian
0.3 / 5 (38) Mar 20, 2012
Corporations should also be given the passwords to your bank accounts and the keys to your house so that they can inspect your sock drawer for evidence that you might bot be the respectable employee that they can exploit.

It is essential that there be no government regulations preventing corporations from demanding these forms of access to personal information. Doing so would put them at a competitive disadvantage with regard to foreign corporations which will eventually lead to their destruction or migration out of America.

Opposition to corporate access to this kind of personal information is nothing less than opposition to Freedom, Liberty, Apple pie, and what it is to be American.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.3 / 5 (37) Mar 20, 2012
"What happens if one does not have an account?" - Milou

In America there is a growing trend to not hiring people who are not already working.

Similarly Employers should not hire people who don't have facebook accounts or who don't agree to giving corporations the password to that account, the password to your bank accounts and the keys to your house/apartment.

Freedom means being free to work, and if you aren't free to provide those passwords, then you aren't free to work.
btb101
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2012
Just another sign that America is becoming more communist by the day.. i find this intrusion into private lives very disturbing. i have neither Facebook nor twitter and the more that goes on about who can access my personal information on the social networking sites, the more glad i am that i do not have an account..
Police checks should suffice for any company..
PoppaJ
5 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2012
I don't care what I need in the way of money. No company or organization is getting that type of information from me. I would never sign a non disparaging anything. I am free and will live that way.
Callippo
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2012
Only very stupid person could place/store the informations on the web, which shouldn't be shared with anybody else (including e-mail data, etc). In this sense, the accessibility of FB/GP accounts should be considered as a basic test of IQ and sense for precautionary principle (at the case of job appliance for security company in particular). Of course, the very same rule could be extended to private notebook or phone data, so I wouldn't be very secretive regarding the name of employer, who would ask me for it too.
Callippo
5 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2012
In this sense it's interesting, how few databases about employers and their internal practices exist on the web.
Lurker2358
3.8 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2012
Just another sign that America is becoming more communist by the day.


That's not communism. That's plantationism.

Your employer believes they have a "right" to dictate every detail of your life to you. More and more, the employer/employee relationship is devolving into a "Master/slave" relationship, whereby they demand more and more control over your life, while paying less and less compared to inflation adjustment.

If I had an employer make demands like this of me, I'd tell them to go to hell.

The HR manager at most places of employment already has enough information on every single employee to be able to fake their id, create bank accounts and retirement accounts, or anything else they want to do, with or without the employee's knowledge. They have your social, name, address, photo id, and even your bank account number for direct deposit, since many of them don't even pay with paper checks anymore.

So the HR manager can steal your whole life already if they wanted to.
Bunny Olesen
5 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2012
Do they believe they also have a right to logon/password information to all your email accounts, the right to open your mail, review your outgoing personal correspondence, dig through your purse or wallet, etc.? Wanting to review your public FB page is one thing; asking for your logon & password is invasion of privacy & should be illegal.
Sinister1811
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2012
Facebook username and password? What next? They'll be asking for bank account details.
Estevan57
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 21, 2012
Why is this such a problem? Google can track every keystroke, picture looked at, site visited, and design ads to specifically target you on Facebook, but an employer can't get a password?

Paypal has your credit card or bank account numbers too. A company that uses direct deposit already has your bank details.
guesta0
5 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2012
Just say you lost the password, or that you don't remember.