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Facebook: Don't reveal your password to snooping employers

As more companies ask workers for access to their Facebook accounts, the social network says that sharing or soliciting a password is a violation of its own guidelines.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Has an employer or potential employer ever requested access to your Facebook account? If so, Facebook itself advises you to just say no.

Responding to growing complaints from employees over the practice, Facebook made its own position quite clear in a post published today. Noting an increase in the number of such requests from employers, the social network said they undermine both the security and the privacy of the user and the user's friends.

And the practice can put employers themselves at risk.

Companies making such requests may not have the right policies or training in place to deal with private information, according to Facebook. Further, companies might be held liable if the information they find proves problematic, such as a post that "suggests the commission of a crime."

Employers could face other thorny legal issues, noted Facebook. "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."

Given the rise of these requests and the resulting concerns, Facebook is pointing to certain guidelines on its end.

"As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," Facebook said in its post. "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."

Of course, some employers aren't likely to care about violating Facebook's guidelines, which don't carry any legal weight. So the company is also promising to work with lawmakers and even take legal action to protect the accounts and privacy of its users.

Facebook's strong stance on this issue is certainly welcome. The social network often finds itself on the receiving end of complaints that it doesn't respect or protect the privacy of its users.

But the trend of companies asking an employee or job applicant for their Facebook account has touched a nerve.

One recent report detailed job applicants for Maryland's Division of Corrections being asked to log into their Facebook accounts during the interview and showing the interviewer all of the posts, friends, and other "private" information.

The controversy has even reached beyond the corporate world into the classroom. A 12-year-old girl has launched a lawsuit against her school for pressuring her to reveal her Facebook password.

And, of course, lawmakers are now getting into the act. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is gearing up a bill that would prevent employers from asking for a job applicant's password on Facebook and other social networks. The senator told the Associated Press yesterday that such a practice is an "unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work."