“I can’t even see it.”

In a Facebook chat with a friend of mine, we were discussing his college-aged daughter’s posts to her Facebook profile. I won’t share the details, but let’s say what she was writing could easily prevent her from being hired if a prospective employer were to see it. I commented to my friend that if his daughter ever wanted to look for a job, she had better delete all those postings. “But her profile is private,” he replied. “I can’t even see it.”

As many people are aware, it has become common practice for hiring companies to view candidates’ LinkedIn and Facebook pages if they are available. This fact causes little concern for most people, since they believe they can keep their profiles, especially on Facebook, private. A private profile is safe from public scrutiny, right?

Wrong. According to a Mesh Report article entitled Job Seekers Getting Asked for Facebook Passwords, nothing could be farther from the truth. In actuality, if you are a job seeker you have essentially given up your right to privacy.

How employers mess with your privacy

First of all, a company might use a third party application such as BeKnown that can often gain access to your profile. You would be surprised how often companies use this tactic. And job seekers might not be aware that when they log in to a company’s website using their Facebook profile, they are likely giving that company full permission to snoop.

Additionally, not long ago both private companies and government agencies began requesting Facebook login information from candidates. Receiving quite a bit of pushback, some of these organizations have modified their requirement, now demanding during interviews that candidates log in to their own Facebook accounts in order to reveal what they contain. Other organizations require candidates to “friend” the hiring manager or other company figurehead so that their profile can be viewed.

One job seeker interviewed by Mesh withdrew his application when asked for his login information. But as requests for social media access become more and more common, many candidates feel that they can’t afford to refuse.

Privacy rights anyone?

One George Washington University law professor says this practice is “an egregious privacy violation.” I tend to agree, and I am encouraged that Illinois and Maryland have legislation in the works that would make it illegal for public agencies to demand access to candidate’s social media profiles. (Police departments are some of the most active seekers of Facebook login information.)

Whether or not this practice is made illegal for public agencies, it seems private companies will be able to invade candidates’ privacy all they want. If you feel strongly enough that this practice violates your rights, and if you can afford to refuse the request, go ahead. But as the practice becomes more widespread, it might become impractical to do so.

Interestingly, it is against the terms of service at Facebook to share login information. But according to the Mesh Report, the Department of Justice will not be prosecuting any employers for their practices despite the fact that it is a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service.

What will you do about it?

Perhaps the best thing job seekers can do for now is to make sure to rid their profile of any risqué, drunken or other unprofessional pictures; keep their posts clean and sane; and refrain from making disparaging online remarks about anyone, especially past employers.

It seems the practice of coercing job applicants to reveal their social media profiles, albeit masquerading as encouraging them to “volunteer” this information, is not going away without a fight. If you are a job seeker, prepare to be asked to share—or if you can afford it, perhaps you can fight back!

How do you plan to respond if a prospective employer asks you for access to your social media profiles? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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