Job Seekers Getting Asked For Facebook Passwords

social media passwords job interviewBy Manuel Valdes and Sharon McFarland

SEATTLE -- When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.

In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.

"It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it "an egregious privacy violation."

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publicly available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.

Companies that don't ask for passwords have taken other steps - such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.

Asking for a candidate's password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.

Back in 2010, Robert Collins (pictured above) was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled.

After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland's legislation.

Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.

And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff's office has been one of several Illinois sheriff's departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.

Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that "speaks well of the people we have apply."

When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said "it depends on the situation" but could include "inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior."

In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff's department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.

"In the past, we've talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends," said Capt. Mike Harvey. "Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them."

Harvey said investigators look for any "derogatory" behavior that could damage the agency's reputation.

E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide," said job seekers should always be aware of what's on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.

Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it's not a violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she's not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.

"I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you're dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site," she said.

More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.

Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.

Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant's work history.

The company assumes "that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently," she said.

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.

In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.

"I think asking for account login credentials is regressive," he said. "If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can't afford to stand up for your belief."

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If I started getting requests from employers to hand over social networking details, I would put the most secure privacy setting available on my facebook account, then change my surname and profile pic. Then, I would simply start telling employers that I didn't do facebook, however, I would be happy to add them and/or give them my login details for my LinkedIn account if that would be at all helpful.
Also, to those people who complain about friending a coworker and then getting in hot water because the co worker sees you slagging off the boss - nobody wants to see that. You wouldn't publicly slag your boss off in the middle of the high street, so why would you post a very public status update slagging him/her off? If you're the type of person who does this, you deserve everything you get.

July 13 2015 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh HELL No! I'm sorry, but that's a complete invasion of privacy! It has nothing to do with their work ethic or anything else that's pertinent to the job! FB is recreation for most of us and THIS is TOTALLY inappropriate! It's like them requiring you to keep an investigator with you to judge and keep track of every move you make on your own time!
That's it! If I ever heal well enough to go back to work, I'm going to record EVERY interview and require THEM to sign a waiver!

March 21 2012 at 12:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One other thought...don't access your personal sites at work on work computers! Use your smartphones on break or lunch time...your time. I have to agree with one comment...don't trash talk your employer on a social network they have access to.

March 21 2012 at 12:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

considering on how people lie on sites(or misrepersent, or fib, etc.) Checking the ' page' is limited use.

March 21 2012 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Is this 1940's Nazi Germany? Are these people that paranoid that they need to violate our right to privacy? What I do in my own time is none of anyone's business as long as it does not break any laws! Who I socialize with, talk to or watch on TV is no ones business but mine. No government or corporate nazi run company should be able to ask for this information at all! Do you think those loosers in congress will do anything for us especially the Republican ones? They are the ones allowing it. We live in a parnoid world with paranoid politicians that are afraid we the poeple of the US may actually get tired of the bs and band together for change booting thier useless sorry asses to the streets for not representing us.!

March 21 2012 at 12:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This is so wrong in so many ways. Such an invasion of privacy. Although, I believe a person is just plain foolish if they talk down their employer on a social network; I do not bellieve an employer has any right to invade their employees privacy like that.

I have seen people friend co-workers only to find themselves in hot water because they talked bad about the company or devulged information they shouldn't have and the co-worker turned them in. More and more employers are requiring their employees to sign a statement saying they can be fired if they say anything bad about the company or if they feel you do not represent the company in a good way.

Do you have friends at work? Sure, but you also have competition. Not everyone is your friend. I have to remind my daughter way too many times not to friend co-workers on . Not saying they are not trustworhty; however, they are a great source to your boss. I've seen it happen. I never talk about my work on facebook; and I do not knock down co-workers, the boss or anyone.

So many people use social networks to blow off steam. They say things they shouldn't. They talk about everything they do, why? This can and will be used against you. I certainly do not want everyone to know my business. I can't believe some of the stuff people post on social networks. Why would anyone say something bad about another person who is on their friend's list? Or post what they did the night before and so on. It just mazes me. My advice, just don't do it.

Saying all of this, though, I still believe it is wrong for an employer to demand this information. It's none of their business. It's not right. I do not need big brother looking over me.

March 21 2012 at 12:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Would it be OK for the applicants to get the social media and email logins and passwords for the HR reps, managers, supervisors, executives, CEO's, governors, senators, congressmen, and board of directors of all these organizations? When they share all of their private information with their employees and applicants then perhaps there would be less anger and suspicion. But alas, it is the typical one-way street, and none of them think it would be wise to share their information and they all decline. All Americans should likewise decline this invasion. Perhaps there could be a way to proverbially 'poke them in the eye' when these nosy people insist on looking into things where they don't belong, that would be the best justice of all. Maybe just when they log in they discover the latest video to go viral is something airing dirty laundry on them and their family?! Now THAT would be karma!

March 20 2012 at 11:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Robert & Carmen

There needs to be crackdown on what companies are doing with respect to screening candidates. Requiring to handover your Facebook ID is just one of the improper actions being done. There is rampant age discrimination and companies are getting away with it.....posting positions as entry level but when you read the job description/requirements they are asking for the candidate to have expert experience that only seasoned professional could have such skill sets. There are more internship postings than ever. A friend of mine passed a phone interview and then was invited for an inperson interview....when he arrived and the HR manager realized that he was not young blood, all of sudden the position was not available anymore....Now the latest....companies requiring that you must be currently employed as a job much for the unemployed finding work with this new angle....

March 20 2012 at 11:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert & Carmen's comment

Time for some major lawsuits. I really hate to say that, but it seems to be the only way to get things done.

March 21 2012 at 12:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just one of the many reasons why I shut facebook down,It was my page to do with as I pleased,and they have turned it into something to use against you.I would like to think work and home are two different worlds,Where I can let my hair down at home,act a fool ,whatever,work I consider a place to be at my best and professional at all times.Seems now a days if you do something wrong outside of your work place,people want you fired.If I had a party with my friends and put pics of us drinking and having a good time,would that meant that I was an alcoholic or was I enjoying my day off?Its not your facebook if you can no longer put things on there that you would like,so that you will look Political Correct, Guess they should start calling it Your Facebook Application to the Political Correct World.

March 20 2012 at 10:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Better yet, I'd delete my Facebook acct and tell them 'I dont have one'. Then reopen it after being hired.

March 20 2012 at 10:13 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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