A recent report by the Associated Press indicates that some employers require Facebook password access to job applicants’ accounts. The report has stirred quite a bit of controversy. On one hand the practice of scouring a job applicant’s online and social networking activity is nothing new. An employer would be naive not to perform a Google search and review the public social networking activity of its prospective employees. However, requiring someone to turn over their password in order to view their private social networking activity is a different story.

Employers require passwords? Facebook dislikes

Facebook has responded by saying that it is against the site’s terms when employers require Facebook password access to an account. A blog post on the company’s website states the following:

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.

We completely agree and are glad that Facebook has taken a firm stance against this practice. Although it is understandable for an employer to want to gain as much information about a prospective employee as possible, we believe that personal information should remain personal. If employers require Facebook password access to your account, should they also be able to read your diary and flip through the photo albums in your house — just because you applied for a job? Absolutely not.

The right way to share information

Perhaps the only time an employer may have reason to monitor a private account is when the account belongs to an active employee, and is being used to represent the company in some way. In that case there is still no reason to demand passwords. At a minimum the company should have a clear policy in place describing when and why access is required to private accounts. And when reasonable justification exists, access to an account should be provided the right way.

There is no reason to have employers require Facebook password access to an account. We have all seen the Facebook permissions dialog; it is the mechanism by which Facebook users can explicitly grant access to specific information in their accounts without having to share their account passwords. It is the mechanism we use at ArchiveSocial and an important tool in ensuring that people remain in control of their own privacy.