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Private Facebook pages are not an employer's business

March 20, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
There is something indescribably creepy about an employer demanding that a job applicant hand over his Facebook login and password so the employer can snoop around on his page during a job interview or, even worse, requiring that an employee "friend" him on Facebook. Employers are also requiring that employees agree not to write anything disparaging about their boss or the company on Facebook.

This is going on all over the country, according to an Associated Press story that appeared this week, and some employees just aren't in a position to tell the boss just where he can put that requirement. People who badly need a job to support their families aren't going to say no, even to the most outrageous invasion of privacy imaginable. Employers in the story defended the practice, saying they're looking for evidence of inappropriate or illegal behavior or relationships. That's obviously not their business if it's on a Facebook page that's been set to 'private.' Anything the job applicant has on his page that can be viewed by all is probably fair game.

If anyone happens to glance at my Facebook page, they will see nothing special. My various Facebook connections post a lot of pictures of their cute kids, dogs and cats and complain about the annoyances of daily life. On the other hand, I'm fairly careful not to post anything that might offend the various people I know, many of whom have wildly differing political and religious beliefs. Some of my Facebook friends are not quite so careful and they really shouldn't have to be. Some things are private, especially when it's been set to private on Facebook, which has a policy forbidding people from logging into someone else's account. I do a periodic search for my name online to see what pops up and where my blog might have been mentioned. It's interesting to see people posting links to my blog on entertainment sites or discussion forums, agreeing or disagreeing with what I have said. Old stories I wrote five or 10 years ago and have forgotten about still exist on someone else's blog somewhere in cyberspace. Entertainers I interviewed and promptly forgot still use excerpts from the stories I did in their promotional materials. I don't much care for Twitter, but apparently a handful of people have Tweeted my stories. On, if you are so inclined, you can find a list of the reviews of books and movies I have done and click the "helpful" or "not helpful" button at your leisure. These are all based on things I have chosen to make public.

However, in a time when people socialize and conduct business online more than ever before, an employer requirement like this is utterly beyond the pale. It is a threat to privacy and will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. A couple of states are looking at making it illegal for an employer to request an employee password. I hope it is made illegal in all 50 states.

It's long past time for other, stringent privacy protections to be put in place that will take into account social media as well as other technology. It should not escape anyone's notice how easy it is for marketers and companies to track a person's online search history or use the GPS in a cell phone to trace someone's movements. This is one of the reasons I use only a pre-paid cell phone that is basically untraceable. As for my Facebook account, the place that is solely about my private life, my password and login is officially off limits.


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