Saturday, 31 March 2012

Should Job Applicants Provide Facebook Passwords? No. Unless It's the HR Manager Post They're After..

"Please enter your facebook log-in details." If that were one of the requests on a job application form, what would you do? When I first noticed streams of comments this week on the topic of employers asking (or demanding) to be able to view candidates' facebook pages I have to admit to thinking that this was just a limited bit of nonsense in some backward part of a distant state across the Pond.

It is real, though, and, whilst I am not sure how many actual instances have arisen or whether it might be restricted to applicants for professions where it might (I say 'might' - that doesn't mean I agree it should) be reasonable to make a thorough check of someone's personal publications, it is a worrying development.

If it is something that Human Resource Managers have decided to start including in the process of selecting from what must be an ever increasing pile of candidates for jobs in these days of high unemployment levels then I would like to add my voice to the objections being raised.

My first thought is 'Why just facebook?' This makes me think that there was a group of very intense and well-meaning sorts sat around a table one day who made the decision in a virtual vacuum, with little or no informed advice. One can imagine the discussion:

"Did you hear about that man who posted rude pictures on his ex-wife's facebook page?"
"Oh, terrible. Seems to be more of an unsocial network to me..."
"Yes, lots of youngsters putting silly images of themselves on there. No shame. What is the world coming to..."
"When I was young..."
"Exactly. It sounds a horrid place and not somewhere I'd want to let my children go."
"I suppose our employees do use it. Who knows what they're saying about working here..."
"Or us..."
"Hmmm. We ought to do something to check."
"We do. I regularly Google the names of some - you know, the ones we'd be worried about."
"So you know what they're doing there then?"
"No, there's some private setting or something they use to hide stuff from us. We would have to have their log-in thing."
"How about asking all our new applicants for that? That would give us some background as to what mischief they get up to and also probably cut down the number that get through to interview as well."
"Good idea. I'll get that added to the form. If they don't like it then that's a good indication that we wouldn't want to trust them anyway. Probably the sort that will come in half awake after being on that internet all night."
What I do find odd, though, is why this is all about facebook. There are rather more places than just the one everyone talks about out there and, of course, Google+ which has so far survived remarkably longer than I had anticipated in being readily accessible at work and in the Colleges I know about. Whilst one might expect a better class of people using the latter, if the HR Committee is going to want to look for the dirt then they really do have to realise that the social networking world is not called facebook. It seems that uninformed managers are beginning to use the term rather like they might use Biro or Hoover.

Then there are blogs which they don't seem to have thought much about at all. That's where I would write the stuff that I am most likely to be thrown out for, where HR would see what I thought about something, or what I got up to In The Village and that would be far more informative than some snaps on facebook.

It strikes me as quite wrong. In the rare instances of someone being suspected of publishing comments that damage their employer's reputation, provide information that should not be made public for commercial or other reasons or in cases of bullying then one would expect investigations to be facilitated to ascertain the accuracy of accusations with specific permissions being granted but some general rule that says someone can roam freely through areas that an individual has chosen, probably on good advice, to restrict to certain friends, is wrong, very wrong.

I can imagine the band of social do-gooders raging against my comments and saying things like "If they have to hide what they say or do then they shouldn't say or do it." My view would be to say to the individuals concerned that they should continue to decide what they wish to be in the public domain and, if they're asked to reveal more, look elsewhere. Unless they're applying for an HR Manager post - in which case they should tidy up their act temporarily first, supply all the passwords with a nice smile, get the job and then fire whoever instigated this in the first place!

The section below is from ZDNetUK's article by David Meyer:

Asking job applicants for passwords is not in itself unlawful in the UK, according to Ed Goodwyn, partner in the employment team at law firm Pinsent Mason.
This disturbing practice represents a grave intrusion into personal privacy.
– US senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer
There is also unlikely to be a breach of the Data Protection Act if the applicant hands over login details willingly, he noted. However, Goodwyn agreed there are some risks for prospective hirers.
"If the employer relies on a protected characteristic which is apparent from the Facebook pages (such as that the candidate is a trade union activist, is disabled, etc.) then that will be unlawful," Goldwyn said. "Furthermore, once the employment relationship is formed, any further use of Facebook in this way without further permission from the employee would be a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence."
Companies could also face legal problems if they treat a worker less favourably for refusing the request, he noted.

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