Social Enterprise

Can an employer ask for your Facebook login and password?

Another case that is attempting to define privacy in a world that is enamored of social media.

The next time you're asked in an interview to name your greatest weakness, remember that it could be worse: Job seekers applying to Maryland's Department of Corrections were asked for their Facebook logins and passwords.

After learning of this practice, the ACLU stepped in and put a stop to it. However, the folks in Maryland, somehow still unclear on the concept, then had job candidates log in to their Facebook accounts while the hiring manager peered over their shoulder as they perused everything behind their privacy settings.

The officials at the Maryland Department of Corrections said that they did this to make sure job candidates didn't have any gang affiliations. The agency told the ACLU it had reviewed the social media accounts of 2,689 applicants and denied employment to seven because of items found on their pages. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water and all that.

When I used to advise people to be careful what they put into social media, I'd always temper that with telling them to at least put sensitive things behind a privacy wall (if you can keep up with Facebook's ever-changing privacy settings). But I guess even that doesn't hold water, as you can see in this  blog that shows an image of a job application (for a clerical position) that comes right out and asks for social media logins and passwords. Scary stuff.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

227 comments
JJFitz
JJFitz

Since they want me to be open, I would ask the interviewer for their password too. I just want to make sure that the interviewer is someone I would feel comfortable working with. ;)

JJFitz
JJFitz

Have the potential employee log in to facebook on a company computer with a keylogger running. It wouldn't be as rude as looking over their shoulder. :) (Of course I'm being sarcastic and HR doesn't need to know about keyloggers.)

JJFitz
JJFitz

I would make a special facebook page just for my employer to spy on with special made up friends. It would be fun. :) I saw Catfish.

egpor95
egpor95

There are several questions that a potential employer can not ask you. Age, marital status, sexual orientation, have kids, political party, or religious views. By asking for your Facebook password they are illegally attempting to circumvent these restrictions because all this information is typically available on your PRIVATE Facebook areas. This is not a question of morality, per se. It strictly an attempt by unscrupulous employers to break the law by not so subtle means. It is just a matter of time before some attorney realizes this and gets real healthy real quick by means of multiple lawsuits. To answer the original question, No, a potential employer may not ask you for anything that will help them break the law.

Andy P Roberts
Andy P Roberts

Surely the solution is to have a second Facebook account with lots of info that will make you look like the perfect candicate for the job and with carefully selected friends who wont mess this up, or even go along with it.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Just thinking about data protection? Will the employer become liable for ongoing use of any information submitted under duress? If a password is used to gain non authorized information which is then used to discriminate can i sue employers for actually using it? From an employers point of view too much information and not enough data is counter productive...if agents are used to pick through this they could be undertaking a felony or criminal offense under investigative restrictions?

The_Custodian
The_Custodian

I am a senior citizen who has a small part time job. My employer could care less about my online activities. Those employers present and future who ask for Facebook and other online passwords are way out of line. I'd like to see this issue wind up in courts and possibly a multimillion dollar lawsuits or two as well.

Eric.Stratton
Eric.Stratton

why use the heading if its not going to be answered --- or did i miss that? I feel like i just wasted my time again with one of these articles

penelopeelse
penelopeelse

I certainly would refuse, because it is not only my privacy but that of everyone to whom I'm connected online. They may feel they have the right to see my photos of me dancing naked while smoking crack as I break into a military base, but they don't get to see my friend's photos of their young child, which have been posted only to their close friends.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

turn over social media passwords or login information to a perspective employer or current employer? That seems more than a bit odd.. sure the employer can ask, but I cannot imagine anyone would provide the info, or login to allow the employer to peruse their information. Yikes. If you want to background check an employee that is ok... but do your own legwork.

Young_Dizzle
Young_Dizzle

My facebook wouldnt go to anyone but myself, if i was put in that situation and needed the job, ill quite simply create a new facebook/mysite page with an alternative login and alternative emails only to be used for this purpose or satisfying the companies needs, they could then see exactly what that would like ideal candidate to be like on my fake facebook or whatever site it was.

jhoughton
jhoughton

O agree with Marie.truman, show them the privacy section on the facebook's agreement page. although they will probably hold that against you personally. so out of those many thousands, only 7 people were denied, and it doesnt say why, when their reason was gang affiliations! so was it because they were in a gang? Even if this was a job i really wanted, i dont think i would apply, unless in the interview I can make an argument that they are prying into my private live, and i want to do the same with every manager, including the hiring manager of this institution. what @sses.

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

Sure, they can ask. They can fck off too.

msdead
msdead

or as I fondly refer to as "A$$book", my opinion of course, and being a conservative at heart I think the Maryland???s Department of Corrections should consider putting it where the sun don't shine. While checking backgrounds maybe the current administration should be checked to make sure they are not affiliated with any know organized crime rings. You know, like prisons for profit. See how far that goes.

Nick Corcodilos
Nick Corcodilos

It's amazing how tolerant people have become of the demands employers make of job applicants. Someone mentioned bank statments and investments: Many employers want access to your credit information. There's no end to it. But perhaps the most overlooked and insidious demand is for your salary history. I teach job hunters to never, ever, ever disclose what they were paid somewhere else -- and most of the time employers back off. It's irrelevant and it will be used to artificially limit a job offer. http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/hasalary.htm

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

Slavery. Worked for a governmental agency as their sole support Systems Programmer on the IBM Mainframe for Payroll / Personnel & Budget / Finance when the usual (and original complement to support it was 5 people). So I did the work of 5 people. I was on call 24/6 and did maintenance on Sunday. I worked on Sunday eight months straight for 8 months, working 10, 12, 15 hour days. When I finally took "vacation" to go to a religious conference, my boss demanded that I give him my cell phone number so he could call me if they had an emergency. I guess he expected me to drive 900 miles and end my "vacation" if the system hickupped. I was actually paid less than the 8 to 5 Sever jockies and Network Narcissists. I guess that's why they treated me with such contempt in IT meetings. Or maybe it was something else. I was told in front of superivsors and managers by the Network guy that "You are too old to understand the technology". My old job used to be fun. I enjoyed working on the Mainframe and helping people. In later years, though, it became unfun because I was prevented from doing vital maintenance I knew the system needed. When I left, there were 500+ PTFs which should have been applied but they wouldn't allow it. They got a Federal Grant to buy new disk drives. That was 3 years ago. Just before they fired me to save the cost of my salary and "freeze" the system for the next 7 years as they diddle around looking for a replacement solution without a clue as to what to do, they had bought faster tape drives because they didn't have adequate backup so that if the system crashed they could never rebuild it. The tape drives have been sitting on the floor since 2010 because they were going to buy the channels with the disk drives. It looks as if they never will. All funding to the IBM Mainframe will be cut at the end of 2012, as it continues to run until 2017 (according to their non plan plan). Government lives with high concept ideas which have not practical way to implement. Corporations have that too (I worked as a manager for Weyerhaeuser to see their $113 million failure). In that all, they all use employees as disposible and interchangeable resources, wringing every last little bit of blood out of them, and they continue to make things work, while management does really stupid things in the very worst interests of the company / agency they infect. So the real issue is, "how can we hire people for the minimum who will be our utter slaves to work for us forever without having them have a life and they never saying one bad thing about us (managers)". Answer: Foxconn. Yes friends, set up the employee barracks and have the government assign them. It's more efficient with those 12 hour shifts 6 or 7 days a week at less than living wage. Make the employees androids (to make Androids) to serve the good of the whole in a socialist system. I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the direction I think we all are going, but privacy is just a small part of it. The good news is that I'm retired and my career has ended. So sad that doesn't help the rest of you.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Remember your Military and presidential election strategy.Set up an account as a diversion,fill it with all the things YOU want people to see under an alias.You should cruise the interview!

LesNewsom
LesNewsom

Realistically, one can pooh-pooh this trend in the hiring process but still, there are more folks who need jobs and will endure the loss of privacy. To think that all prospective employess will turn their backs on a nosy hiring manager is akin to all Americans not flying in protest of the TSA. ...Not...Gonna...Happen... From an employer perspective, they have a lot riding on finding the right employee and such screening is not likely to happen when you are applying for a meager $35K per-year job. If it does, it certainly does not happen on the first interview. Whether you use ANY social media or not, your friends DO and likely, any potential employer can find out things about you which may surprise you and pique their interest into asking you for details. If a FB search finds the profile of a guy smokin dope on his porch and you just so happen to be his friend...or you seem to have a lot of kids for friends...or your entire wall is loaded with Mafia Wars and Farmville and Texas Hold'em... An employer has every right to ask you for more information or shy away from you. You can be squeaky clean or a dirty bum but ultimately, your choice in friends will define you.

mdavis
mdavis

The thing that people are not getting is that unless the U.S. supreme court rules in on it, it doesn't matter what other states do. The other thing to remember is that as an applicant, you are asking for a job, you have no constitutionally protected RIGHT to work at these places. Do I think it's a grey area and a slippery slope into the realm of invasion of privacy? Yes, I do. Do I think that employers who have adopted this policy for ALL incoming employees have a right to do so? At this moment in time, yes I do. Does an employer have a right to retroactively ask employees for their FB, My_, login info as a condition of continued employemnt? Absolutely not. Some might see that as a double standard but it goes to the condition of employement at the time of hiring. If at the time you were hired, it was NOT a requirement then the argument can be made that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy for private areas of the social networking sites. There is nothign to say though that they can't take a look at what you are publicly expressing though. Additionally, If the company is going to enforce this turning in of username/passwords companywide then they should give current employees the courtesy of a head's-up so that the employee can make sure there is nothing negative.

DBinNC
DBinNC

So anything one of my friends or family says can get me denied a job? Nice... Let's all go live in little plastic bubbles. Someone had better tell the HR & Legal departments that we're in a "global community" now and they might want to leave the middle ages and join us in 2012.

MartyL
MartyL

I've walked out of interviews for less. Here's the deal, folks - all of us already know the job doesn't pay enough and you want more credentials than you're willing to pay for and I've got "too much experience". Plus, you don't have a degree and you're threatened by mine - OR you have a degree and don't understand how I can walk and chew gum at the same time without one. So - No, you can't have my login and password info. And as soon as I get to my contact list, I'll send you the number of my chiropractor, the which you'll need to help you get your head out from where you've obviously jammed it.

rltcok02
rltcok02

The Norman, OK police department requires your password and login ID and if you refuse you are disqualified on the spot. Employers now use Facebook as a screening tool when they don't ask for it they simply search you out to check you out I have seen people apply then get denied because of what they saw on their Facebook page. Sometimes it was stuff in the background or action photo's or links no matter what lock it down and they can't see it.

melekali
melekali

One does not have to comply. Social media that is changed in the settings to be private is private.

Ike_C
Ike_C

The owner of the computer can demand anything and everything regarding what you are doing with his or her computer. You do not own it. You want to play on facebook, do it on your own device and on your own time. Many administrators can, if they were given the word, prevent you from going anywhere other than the sites that they want you to go to. Unfortunately we are headed that way. Some companies are already doing it. As far as they are concerned, you want a job? You will play according to their rules.

wjacomb
wjacomb

Such conduct belongs to the ancient days of the Master / Servant Act. The correct way to vet is through a police check. If they are so draconian as to want to invade my privacy, I don't want to work for them. An employer I work for in return for money. I sell my skills and expertise - not my soul. The price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance and to follow the example of Patrick Henry "Shall we gather the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs?...Sir we are not weak if we make proper use of the means which the God of Nature hath placed in our power. .." Through the use of the law and standing up and being counted, we cannot be defeated and our freedoms preserved.

lightft
lightft

If this "screening tool" becomes anything more than a passing fancy, just how long will it take applicants to set up a "for public review" private profile to share with Mom, Dad, aunt Tessie, WalMart, xxyyz High School, PartyHat U. and the local religious fanatics, keeping their real profile under a pseudonym? Cross posting through a few blind accounts will obscure your trail enough to throw them off the scent. Yes, anyone with data mining experience can get to you if they know enough of your friends, but the average HR office is not about to go that deep unless you are applying for a top management job.

NeilThyer
NeilThyer

Not just gang affiliations, slander/libel/defamation are all things that the we may say to our friends at a coffee shop, but with FB, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn these comments can have far reaching business implications. It is no longer a matter of a few people, but the wrong message can become viral to thousands even millions. The Techrepublic advice to not write anything down that you don't want to haunt you is very good. Quite a few candidates lie on their CV, social media is a simple and good way to reference check. While I wholeheartedly disagree with the invasion of privacy of requesting account details, there is no harm in asking to see the general pages on their FB. Asking candidates to be a FB friend before making the job offer, if they say no, then don't make the offer. If there is no trust, then no job, they can learn about you and you them equally and equitably. Some things should remain private, but if candidates have a demonstrated behavior that is counter to your business interests, this is also a person you don't want to hire.

jayngel.cat
jayngel.cat

Heck, my biggest rule would be no Facebook, No Twitter, no Social Media at work on any computer or laptop. If you want to Facebook or whatever, do it outside the office or anywhere you work. Never mind the stuped "hide from your boss" button. If you're working, you're getting paid to do a job, not to socialize with your buddies on social media. Save that for after work. Gawd I hate Progress, the Cloud, Social Networks that keep all your information, and mete it out to 3rd parties, as well as "suggest that you might want to buy" Ads. I get enough of that crap when I'm watching tv. Dontcha just love the paid programming. No I don't have any of this stuff, Yes I do have a cell phone, but hubby got it for me on a 3 year contract - it's been sitting in the bedroom for over a year now, and I haven't touched it. No testing, no apps, nothing! I would like to keep it dead.

EKRULL8
EKRULL8

I keep telling people not to use facbook and other sites like it,that they will get you in trouble. Just tell these employers that you are illeagal and they can't discriminate against you.

Robynsveil
Robynsveil

The idea of gang affiliates logging in a medium populated by mums and aunties and teenie-boppers sharing piccies of the prom and "checking in" at some local dance-thingie is patently ridiculous. With the degree of sophistication in espionage and sleuthing available to a corrections facility, it seems a bit pathetic that the interviewers would consider a Facebook account's content to have significant weight in terms of determining that person's affiliations, particularly if they were of the underworld variety. I mean: Facebook. The whole idea is ridiculous. Google+ maybe. It at least has decent security settings: Facebook's is a joke, even now. Anyone wanting to hide or keep private their activities - which I would assume those engaging in illegal activities would do - would definitely not chose Facebook's open arena where every Margaret, Heloise and Lucy can have a look. Seriously. Facebook? If someone's that stupid to be engaging in illegal activity AND publishing their exploits on FB, do you really want to hire them?

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Typical govt agency wasting their own time. How much 'gang affiliation' stuff is actually posted on Facebook? My guess is very little. In my admittedly limited experience, the kind of teenagers who like to carry guns in real life don't waste much time on first-person shooter games or on anything to do with computers.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Unsure about the wild wild US, but I'm sure forcing to give your credentials for Facebook or anything else online is illegal [at least in most western countries]. The company could just cut off Facebook access, but they want to make sure their employees don't say anything negative about them online. Look at the issue between a 12-year old and her school when she made a slightly nasty comment about a teach on Facebook [not on school grounds] and the school suspended her for BULLYING! She's taking them to court.

rickw919
rickw919

Don't quite understand the fascination with alerting the world to ones daily activities.

aureolin
aureolin

What if Maryland DOC had hired someone with gang affiliations, and things went "wrong" (as they probably would). All the people yelling about "Invasion of Privacy" would then be yelling about "How did you miss that!!". IMHO (and no one else's) There are *some* positions where a thorough investigation into the applicant's personal life are warranted. People who have positions of authority and power *should* be held to a higher standard and should be more thoroughly investigated. How many abuses of power by cops (for example) could have been prevented by a much more thorough examination of their private lives and eliminating those with power and authority issues? In this case, I agree with the State of Maryland. DOC officers have a HUGE level of personal power over the prisoners in their care and hiring someone who's say, a closet sadist, for example, would be a terrible, terrible thing. What's important to remember is that Maryland was not hiring a janitor here. Most positions would not, and should not be subject to this kind of investigation. In fact, I'd say that easily 99% of all positions don't warrant this kind of invasion of privacy. Cops, DOC officers, judges and politicians are on my short list of who *should* be subject to this sort of invasive investigation simply because of the level of power and influence we as a society grant these people. Who else do you think should have to answer to this higher standard?

mperata
mperata

"Another good reason why I don't use Facebook, MySpace, Google+ etc. No account, no problems."

forsythes
forsythes

Shall I also hand over the keys to my car and house? Shall I let them peruse my diary? When you use social networking sites that have privacy settings, I believe there is a reasonable expectation that anything marked as private will stay private. The other issue I have with this is that if my friends know my Facebook page is private when they post to my wall, then a company would not only be delving into my private life, but that of my friends as well. In addition, they would also then have access to all of my friends walls. Not cool.

thisaintmyemail
thisaintmyemail

I always like to use the term from BackTrack Linux: "The quieter you are, the more you are able to hear." I don't have a Facebook, Twitter, Website, or w/e social media is present on the internet.

sperry532
sperry532

Can they ask? Yes they can. Is it Legal? Maybe. Should they ask? No. My response would be a simple. I would stand up, gather my things, and say "Thank you for taking the time to interview me. Since I keep my private and working life separate, I will not grant you access to my private life. But again, thank you for the opportunity." Then walk out.

IT Pixie
IT Pixie

Sure, the employer can ask for my login, just like they can ask any types of unreasonable questions; but I can also tell them no, they can't have my login. If they don't like my answer and not hire me, that's okay. I wouldn't want to work for a company that does not respect employee's privacy anyways, especially if I don't use company computers for personal use.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

enclose a stool sample in my CV, too, just in case...

sstolar
sstolar

I am a big fan of privacy. My browser cookies are turned off unless absolutely needed for access to that website. With that said, for some jobs it is appropriate for an employer to see your social media private areas. While hiring prison guards you do need to be careful. Gangs have and will continue to get hired as guards unless no stone is left unturned. If you can find their gang afflilation from Facebook, then the prison has a responsiblity to find that out. If the don't, a prison guard gang member could arrange for drugs to be smuggled in or provide access to secluded areas to allow rapes, murders and who knows what else. Maybe seven out of 2,689 is not be a high percentage, but how many murders and other crimes were prevented because those seven were not hired. So for some job maybe you need the extra scrutiny. For the more other types of jobs will employers be protected from lawsuits? If it turns out that there was something on Facebook that cause people to sue because it was on Facebook and the employer should have know. Every few weeks their is a story of a teacher who fired because it was found the teacher was a stripper or a porn star from their facebook page. If employers are going to be sued for what is on social media sites, then they should have access to the social medai site. If employers are protected from lawsuits, then no access to social media site.

rengek
rengek

Do employers plan to go through my underwear draw as well. Time to make multiple accounts.

Dusterman
Dusterman

We have lost our moral and ethical compass. . Not only is this question [ in any circumstance ] illegal .. .. it is morally and ethically wrong .. .. period ! . and I then read that it is a goverment agency asking .. .. these people and especially the person that thought this up .. .. should be arrested and put in jail .. .. as they are attempting to take away a citizens personal rights .. .. they indeed .. .. qualify under the term of "traitor" .. .. = any to attempt to subvert the USA [ or its citizens ] is a traitorous act .. .. . Oh yea .. .. I am fired up about these less than ethical , immoral un-American traitors .. .. it is these very people that are slyly and secretly attempting to subvert our great country through the sly removal of our correct liberty's granted us under the Constitution .. .. and paid for in blood .. .. by our forefathers .. .. . BTW .. .. I am not a conspiracy therory person .. .. I deal in facts .. .. and the facts here are that yet another company / government agency is attempting to circumvent the Constitution .. .. in the name of the "greater good" .. .. the real question here is .. .. who's greater good .. .. and why do you feel that only your morals and ethics are of any value and are not corrupt ? . In my opinion .. .. :-) . Mike Denver, CO

P.F. Bruns
P.F. Bruns

I can't speak for the other 49 states directly, but Article 1, section 23 of the Florida Constitution specifically guarantees the right to privacy, and the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution should apply if your employer is out of state. Be advised, I am not a lawyer. It's certainly a violation of Facebook's terms and conditions--and it should be illegal because it basically forces you to violate a binding legal contract as a condition of employment. Again, I am not a lawyer. Still, that's gotta be at least a high misdemeanor if not a felony. Ignoring legal and constitutional concerns, though, no good employer should ask for any private login and password info.

JP-470
JP-470

Absolutely insane!! Next, you will see interviews where the applicant is required to strip naked so that they review your gang related tatoo's!! How about strapping on a recorder to collect personal conversations for a week before an interview!! Hire a private investigator to spy your daily activities! Unfortunately I can see why the Maryland DOC wants to keep gang members out if their work force, after all they have plenty to deal with in the prison population.

jodym
jodym

as checking your credit score before they hire you. Crazy.

JJFitz
JJFitz

Have arguments with your made up friends over whose job is better. Your made up friends will wish they had an employer like yours. etc.

scandent
scandent

The trick is how to graciously refuse to comply so that you remain in the running for the position (assuming you still want to work for such an invasive co). Stating that you have a prior committment to abide by the terms of service with the provider, AND a committment to also protect the privacy of your friends. I like it; and a prospective employer might just respect it too and see it as still displaying character in the face of a tough situation (needing the job).

JamesRL
JamesRL

This is about applicants for a job, not people who are already employed. Different situation all together.

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