Does your cat know what you do on Facebook?
Would you let an employer look at your Facebook profile? Apparently, many would like the privilege.Facebook's chief privacy officer Erin Egan has warned employers against demanding access to candidates' Facebook accounts.
It seems to be a prevalent problem in the US, where press reports indicate that some companies are asking people outright for their login credentials. The thinking seems to be that, by looking at the private Facebook accounts of a job candidate, an employer will be able to get a better sense of the kind of person they are.
This is, of course, dangerous territory. It is dangerous not just for job candidates' privacy, but also for employers.
Let's say that an employer decides to log in to an employee's account, and finds out a piece of otherwise private information. Perhaps, for example, a female candidate might be planning a pregnancy. Someone could be gay, but only out to a group of Facebook friends. Perhaps someone is a member of online groups or has made status updates indicating that they are HIV-positive. Or maybe they are a member of some other minority group.
It then becomes very difficult for an employer to prove that they haven't passed up that candidate in favour of someone else, based on discrimination over something they read in their Facebook profile. Decided not to hire me for that Java developer position? Prove, then, that it isn't because you suddenly found out that I'm thinking of trying for a baby with my partner within the next few months, and you're scared of having to grant me paternity leave.
In the US, some companies have tried to skirt around the controversy by simply asking potential candidates to let them shoulder surf as those candidates look through their own Facebook profiles. But this fails to get to the nub of the problem, which is that surfing peoples' private social media accounts is an extremely bad idea, and people who do it should be burned at the stake.
Facebook itself has warned companies not to do it, and the UK Information Commissioner's Office has warned UK employers that it would have "very serious concerns" if companies in the UK nosed around people's Facebook pages. The Officer points to the UK Data Protection Act, arguing that it explicitly says organisations shouldn't hold excessive information about individuals.
In the US, some job applicants have said that they have allowed companies to intrude on their privacy in this way, because they needed the job in question. However, ITJobLog's readers are hopefully not in the same position, living on the breadline and looking for work from week to week. If a potential employer tried to do the same to our readership, we hope that candidates would decide that they didn't want to work for an organisation with such an egregious value system.