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'Alarmed and Outraged': How Two U.S. Senators are Trying to Save Your Facebook Privacy
By: Melody Weister
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Imagine, if you will, this scenario: You enter a job interview, nervous, hiding your sweaty palms while trying to keep a level head and answer the questions your potential employer asks. You think you’ve done well until the final question comes at you and leaves you reeling. “Could I just have your Facebook login information here, then?” Outrageous as it sounds, such incidents have happened on multiple occasions across the country, and as of right now are considered to be legal, despite the fact that they do violate the Facebook Terms of Service. And if you’re getting ready to stand on a chair and yell, “How is this possible?! We have to stop this,” have no worries. You aren’t alone. Two United States Senators don’t think it should be legal, either, and they’re working on legislation that would make it illegal to ask for that information.
 
For those members who are only recently discovering Facebook, and only using it to connect with old friends, this may seem like a relatively minor slight by potential employers. However, even in that case, giving your employer unlimited access to your private profile could be severely damaging. Many of us share photos and put up statuses that openly state our religious and political standpoints, topics which are supposed to be taboo discussions in the workplace due to their divisive and controversial nature. Also, a lot of the younger generations of members of Facebook who have used the site for a number of years, both during and after college, have photos of themselves, some of them several years old, that display a less professional nature than they would want to portray to a potential employer. (You all know the photo I’m talking about. The one you saw on Facebook the next morning and said, “Oh my god, when was this taken?!” Yeah. That one.)
 
Facebook’s current privacy settings have been finely honed over the years in order to provide users with the capability to keep those pictures’ and opinions’ visibility limited to a select group of individuals — and definitely not to potential employers. But up until recently, there has been no law preventing employers from asking for login information.
 
According to Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, the heart of the situation goes beyond embarrassing photographs and political opinions. In a statement announcing their request to the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to look into the matter, which they call a “new disturbing trend,” Senator Schumer stated, “Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries — why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?”
 
Facebook itself has also published a post decrying this practice, which you can read in full here. Notably, Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan made clear the risks to employers misusing this information, saying, “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. 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.”
 
Senator Blumenthal, along with his request to these Federal agencies to investigate this matter, is currently drafting legislation that would prevent this practice in the future. Policymakers in Maryland and Illinois are said to be working on similar legislation. For now, keep in mind that an employer who wants your Facebook login information isn’t an employer you’d want to work for, anyway.


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About the Author
Melody Weister is a technology aficionado, unashamed smartphone geek, and casual gamer from Montclair, NJ, where she works as a Social Media Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter: @msmelodyrose.
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