Facebook to employers: this asking-for-passwords nonsense needs to stop

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Updated at 4:15 p.m. PT with additional Facebook comment.

After hearing reports that employers are asking prospective employees for their social media passwords to see their histories, Facebook has responded today by telling those employers to buzz off and users to not give up their passwords.

We first heard about this weird trend earlier this week. Some HR pros apparently have been asking applicants to hand over Facebook login credentials, including user names, passwords, and security questions, or asking applicants to log into their Facebook accounts on a company computer so recruiters can comb through their accounts later. Other recruiters might ask an applicant to add them as a friend on the social network to gain access to their profiles. The thing is, many applicants are complying because the job market is still rough.

Facebook says users should should never have to share their passwords or give access to their accounts to others. Not only does it compromise your data, but it also can expose an employer to legal liability. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan writes, “As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.

“That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.”

Egan says that Facebook feels employers should not be asking applicants to turn over their passwords on moral grounds alone; but, he points out, obtaining those passwords could open up a legal Pandora’s box for employers, as well.

“For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person,” he wrote.

Facebook also said it potentially would take legal action to protect the privacy and security of its users. This includes shutting down any application that abuses its ability to collect data on users.

Update: After seeing this story, a Facebook spokesperson felt the need to add:

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do. While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever had to give a social media password to an employer or had to “friend” an employer/boss to keep or get a job.

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