The Tech Curmudgeon – hell no, you don't get my Facebook password, Mr. Interviewer

Image credit: Scientific American

In one of the Tech Curmudgeon’s favorite movies, Winston Zeddmore (played by Ernie Hudson) told Ray Stantz (played by Dan Aykroyd) “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!'” In that same spirit, if a prospective employer asks for your Facebook password, you say “NO!” Actually, the Tech Curmudgeon initially thought that “fuck off!” was a better response, but you may not want to get a reputation for having an attitude problem.

Then again, having an attitude about refusing to bare your private life to an employer who has no legitimate interest in said private life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s why it’s called “your private life,” after all.

The Tech Curmudgeon also feels that any company who demands access to your private information via social networking sites as a condition of employment is a company that desperately needs to go out of business yesterday, if not sooner.

The Tech Curmudgeon expects that prospective employers are going to check up on the people they’re interviewing. Google is the interviewer’s friend for this – simply typing in your name and perusing the first few pages of links is usually enough to get some idea of who you are. And if you’re going in for an interview, you should expect to field questions about what that Google search turns up. The Tech Curmudgeon actually thinks that’s just fine. That’s why the Tech Curmudgeon thinks young people today should be a hell of a lot more careful about what they put online, instead of naively assuming that “no-one will ever see this sexting pic I just sent my BF/GF.”

But demanding that you turn over your Facebook password, which could easily be your email and Twitter and Plurk and LinkedIn and Pinterist and StumbleUpon and Pandora and laptop – and banking – password too is an invasion that no-one should have to sit still for.

As for “shoulder surfing,” the practice of asking someone to log in and then look over their shoulder to see their private information? The Tech Curmudgeon says “bite me.” Unlike what the employers in this PC Magazine article claim, it’s not a compromise – it’s an invasion. The severity of the invasion is less, but that’s like saying you were only stabbed three inches deep instead of being run through completely – you still got stabbed.

Employers mentioned in the original AP article said that they feared for the company’s reputation. The Tech Curmudgeon can understand that concern, seeing how a company’s reputation is one of the most important, if not the most important, intangible asset a company has. Develop a rep for building crap or having piss-poor customer service and you (rightly) won’t sell squat. Similarly, if your employees are doing drugs, then that’s bad for the bottom line too.

But where does that arguments stop? If a company’s rep is what makes them money, then maybe anything that makes the company money – or costs it money – is reason enough to make unreasonable searches of your life. The Tech Curmudgeon knows – how about prospective employers demand a body cavity search while they’re surfing your Facebook? Too much meat in your stool means that you’re at risk for colon cancer, and shelling out for cancer treatments would boost health insurance spending and affect the bottom line too, right? Bam! “Don’t call us, we’ll call you….”

If it were the government doing this, it would be against the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Last the Tech Curmudgeon checked, damage to reputation didn’t qualify as “probable cause,” Facebook and email and twitter probably qualified as “letters, and effects,” and no company has the judicial authority to issue warrants.

Give the Tech Curmudgeon a break already.

At least Facebook has come out and told companies to cut it out already. The Tech Curmudgeon doesn’t expect Facebook’s demand to actually do much – this is Facebook, and it’s not like they haven’t created 10x more than their share of privacy issues over the years – but it’s better than nothing.

11 replies »

  1. Putting on my HR Hat for a moment: at a certain point I expect we will see legislation requiring signature of the FCRA release for web searches and that it’s done by a third party. Currently the employer is required to get a signed release authorizing them to perform a background or credit check, and must disclose if anything negative is found that affected the decision to make a job offer. With a background search you at least are providing pertinent data to the 3rd party company (driver’s license number, birth date, social security number) to help verify that you are pulling the right John Smith from Colorado. Since one doesn’t provide that information when submitting a resume, a person could have no idea that the reason they were denied the job was because someone the next county over with the same name was in the local paper for running a meth lab. My father-in-law is a wonderful, upstanding citizen who works in law enforcement. There is someone else with the same name in the same state who is apparently a career criminal.

    When do you get concerned about your employees personal lives? After they get signed on and you give them the employee policies including hopefully a online/social media policy which tells them what is acceptable and not acceptable. Heck put it in your social media policy that they are NOT allowed to disclose their employer on any social media sites. That’s fine.

  2. If I was asked for a password for anything at all in an interview, I’d go with “fuck off”. The intrusion is outrageous and completely unjustifiable.

    Nevertheless, if I was hiring, particularly in government work, I might be tempted to ask. After all, anyone who would give their facebook password to someone they don’t know and have only just met, simply because they asked for it, must be highly suggestible and a very large security risk, and should thus not be let into any environment where security is of even the slightest importance.

  3. Maybe we’re taking the wrong approach here. Let’s out the companies asking for passwords. Who is it? Let’s stop buying what they have to sell.

  4. Samuel Smith, March 24, 2012 at 6:21 am :
    This has been my reaction. I want a clearinghouse of companies doing this, and I’m willing to use S&R to do it.
    Excellent; great idea! Do it.

  5. When you’re desperate for a job, it’s tough to say no. But sometimes you got to know when to fold ’em. Any job that starts out that way is guaranteed to be terrible anyway.

  6. 1. Never give your password for ANYTHING to ANYONE.
    2. Do NOT use the same password for multiple sites/services.