I’ve been seeing more and more stories about job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords

and I thought it might have only been a poor choice by a single company. But judging by this story, it has been commonplace to ask interviewees for their Facebook credentials in job interviews. This is purportedly to check for gang affiliations, illegal activity or anything that could “damage the image of the employer” during the process of vetting the applicant.

I think this is a dirty trick against desperate people in a bad economy.

Vetting Candidates

I understand where the companies are coming from. Interviewing is difficult. The process of whittling down hundreds or thousands of applicants to a manageable number to phone screen is maddening. To further get a list of people to interview in person is even more difficult. Even after multiple interviews, the employer is still hiring an unknown person and hoping for the best. This is also why probationary periods exist for new hires.
There is no guarantee the person will be a good fit, is trustworthy and is worth the time and energy invested to hire them. Vetting candidates is hard, time-consuming work. However, it needs to be done legally and ethically. If you play games to hire people, you won’t always get the best employee but you will get the best game player.

Expectations of Privacy

There is no expectation of privacy on corporate networks. This should not extend into personal lives.

When you’re at work, you are on company time and company equipment. Don’t expect anything you do to be private. This is not to say that anyone in IT is watching your browsing habits or reading your email. They have far better things to do and are way too busy to be randomly poking around mailboxes and file servers.

Some employers employ monitoring software in addition to the nannyware to block access to social networks, video game sites and pornography. These are the things you’ve seen. Though, behind the scenes there can be software tracking the amount of time you’re spending on various sites or places you’re visiting on the web.

There is a huge difference between monitoring the activity of employees while at work and prying into the personal lives of potential employees. I can understand the desire of an employer to see what they’re getting when they hire. But what they’re asking is for akin to asking for a copy of your house key, car key and bank PIN.

Think of all the things sitting in your email account. How many accounts are tied to that email? Where are your password reset emails sent? Where are your bank statements sent? How many passwords to other systems are sitting inside your email at this very moment.

Now give your email password to a stranger. This is the same as providing your Facebook password to a stranger on the street.

It doesn’t stop there

Access to a Facebook account doesn’t stop with the personal messages, pictures, notes and information within Facebook. Having access to your Facebook account also grants this unknown person access to any site you’ve used Facebook to login to.

Login to your Facebook account and go to Account Settings, then Apps, or use this link to see the applications connected to your account. If your account is anything like mine, that’s a pretty long list. By granting access to Facebook, you’ve also potentially granted access to all of these applications as well.


Employers are calling the request for passwords optional. They are not requiring applicants to turn over their passwords. However, if a Facebook password stands between feeding your family and your privacy, you’re going to feed your family.

There is a long list of things which can’t legally be asked in interviews including what religion do you practice, what social organizations do you belong to, how old are you, are you married, do you have kids, what do your parents do for a living, do you smoke or drink, do you use illegal drugs, how much do you weigh, how far is your commute, and have you ever been arrested?

There are a lot of areas off limits to interviewers and a lot of ways to bend those rules to get the information desired.

Social networks are not covered in the list because they are relatively new inventions. There are two states looking to make it illegal to discriminate against job applications who refuse to turn over passwords to their social media account. Maryland and Illinois have both introduced bills to do so.

Even though it may be legal for an employer to ask for passwords in order to vet the applicant, handing over those credentials is not.


In addition to it being a violation of the terms of use for any social media web site to provide credentials to another person.

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.

So while it remains a violation of the terms of the web site, and a federal crime, the Department of Justice has agreed to look the other way on employers asking for your personal passwords. This should be all I need to say about the practice.

Economic times are hard for everyone. Companies need good people and people need to put food on their table, keep a roof over their heads and support themselves and their families.

It is wrong for companies to rely on immoral and illegal means to filter out applicants. While this practice is in use for now, it leads down a dangerous road. How far is too far? How much privacy is a pay check worth?