By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated March 23, 2012.
Employers who ask prospective employees for their logons to Facebook and other online sites and services are getting pushback -- from Facebook. On Friday, the social-networking giant said that it's "a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password."
The response from Facebook follows an Associated Press story earlier this week that described how some governmental agencies and companies were requiring the logons as part of the interview process.
Possible Liability for Companies
In one example cited by the news service, an African-American security guard with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was asked for his logon information during a reinstatement interview in 2010 when he returned from a leave of absence.
The guard, Robert Collins, said he was told the Human Resources department wanted to check his private profile information for any possible gang affiliations, and he complied because he "needed the job to feed my family." The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint, and the department revised its policy, asking interviewees instead to log on to their private profiles during the interview.
Some organizations are asking not only for Facebook logons, but, as the city of Bozeman, Montana does, for logons for e-mail, other social-networking sites, and other accounts.
In another form of the practice, some organizations ask that a human resources employee, such as the interviewer, be friended and thus given access to a private profile.
For example, there are reports that student athletes in various colleges are being required to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, in order to get access to their private info and posts.
'Unreasonable Invasion of Privacy'
In the Facebook statement, Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan noted that a company that seeks such information could be opening itself up to claims of discrimination if, for instance, it found in the private profile that the interviewee was a member of an ethnic or senior citizen group, and then declined to hire the person.
Additionally, Egan noted that a company could also be liable for information they have seen on the profile, such as when "the information suggests the commission of a crime."
Interestingly, Facebook's firm stance in favor of the privacy of its members, citing its Statement of Rights and Responsibility, comes after it recently released a revised version of that same statement, which, as has happened numerous times in the company's history, has alarmed some users about possible erosions of privacy by the company.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was authoring a bill that would forbid these practices. He told news media that these kind of requests from possible employers were coercive, an "unreasonable invasion or privacy," and that they should join other outlawed employment practices.
Bills have already been proposed in the states of Illinois and Maryland that would prohibit the practice by public agencies.