Facebook threatens legal action against password-demanding employers

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Facebook has updated their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities which now makes it a violation to share or solicit a profile’s password. Furthermore the social network vows to take legal action against offenders when appropriate. The revisions come in light of recent stories regarding potential employers asking job seekers for their Facebook password, an act that many have deemed unlawful and a violation of privacy.

It’s not uncommon for a potential employer to do a little background checking before making a hire. This typically includes calling previous employers, checking with listed references and even running credit checks. More recently, however, employers have been taking to social networks to get a better idea about the person they are considering for hire.

Having a public profile and posting potentially inappropriate or unprofessional content that would be frowned upon by your employer is a decision made on an individual basis. Facebook has implemented multiple privacy features that can effectively shut off profile access to all but those on your friend’s list. But the latest move of requesting a user’s password crosses a whole different line.

In addition to the obvious legal ramifications, Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan also notes that prospective employers could be setting themselves up for other types of legal trouble.

“We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” said Egan. “But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. 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.”

Additionally, the employer or potential employer could find themselves in a bind should they uncover questionable material that, for example, suggests the commission of a crime. Does the employer take that information to the authorities, or do they pretend they never saw it, thus further digging into the legal mess?

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