Employers asking for personal passwords

By Alexander Cheung

Have you ever wondered if your presence on Twitter or Facebook is affecting your job prospects? There are measures you can take to keep your personal information private on social media sites. However, some employers are taking their efforts to the next level to reveal what might be hiding behind your privacy controls. Several companies in the United States and Ontario have reportedly gone as far as directly asking for candidates’ Facebook login credentials during interviews.

With the rise of social network usage in recent years, employers have been turning to the popular social hubs to supplement their recruitment tactics. Whether companies are asking for login credentials, performing a simple Google search, or asking applicants to add human resources managers as friends, questions are being raised about the ethical and legal nature of the practice.

Fourth-year geomatics engineering student Omar Al Emrani is adamant about employers keeping away from the private lives of applicants. “They shouldn’t have access to your personal life,” said Emrani.

Professor of law Peter Bowal from the Haskayne School of Business said the legality of the practice is vague, especially when dealing with private businesses.

“From a legal point of view, I don’t think there’s any clarity in the law that would prohibit this right now,” said Bowal.

However, he believes that the trend may be short lived.

“Young folks today who have been fairly unrestrained on Facebook would probably like to have a very clear divide between their personal life and recruiting credentials,” said Bowal. He points out that these applicants would likely be the most opposed to giving out this information.

This sentiment is common, given the opposition towards the issue.

“It’s a violation of personal space,” said fourth-year history student Cameron Wilson. “It should be illegal, but people need to use common sense [and say no].”

Bowal reiterated his belief that market powers could ultimately put an end to the issue.

“[If] you don’t like when a prospective employer asks you for your Facebook password, you’re not going to give it to them so you’re not going to work there,” said Bowal. “If all good, young people will take the same position– pretty soon they’re going to stop asking.”

David Cataford, a career specialist with the University of Calgary Student Success Centre, advises students to make sure their online identities are well-curated.

“We always advise students to make sure that their Facebook and online presence is clean and looks good,” said Cataford.

Regarding the question of whether students should provide personal passwords when asked, Cataford said the answer should be no. If faced with an employer demanding such information, Cataford suggested that it’s best to be polite and political.

“You don’t want to say ‘No, I’m not giving you my password’ and storm out,” said Cataford. Instead, he suggests that students maintain separate professional profiles on LinkedIn and direct employers to that profile instead. As for why this trend is being observed in the job market, Cataford thinks that employers’ intentions are not malicious.

“The biggest thing is fit,” he said. “Employers want to see fit, what you’re interested in or what you’re doing on Facebook to see whether you’ll fit into their organization.”

He deemed the direct asking for Facebook passwords to be the result of laziness.

“A good interviewer can really get in between [the lines] and really find out what you’re like and what motivates you,” said Cataford.

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