Thursday, March 22, 2012

What kinds of online information should an employer have access to?

I was sitting having dinner yesterday when a story on NPR made me pause. Robert Collins was re-applying for his job with the Maryland Department of Corrections after taking a leave of absence, and during the interview he was asked for his Facebook username and password. The interviewer told him that this had become a part of the interview process because they had become concerned that some staff may have gang affiliations, and these ties had led to gang infiltration in its facilities.

Collins gave the interviewer the information requested and the interviewer looked over his profile with the screen facing away from Collins. Since then, the Maryland has suspended the practice and changed its policy so that is no longer mandatory for job applicants to supply their Facebook username and password. Collins and the  American Civil Liberties Union are now working with state legislators to pass a bill that would prevent employers from even requesting that kind of information.

Facebook profiles fall somewhere in the middle of the public/private divide.  On one hand, most students I have talked to seem to take it for granted that any employer is likely to do a Google search of them before they are hired, and if they left their Facebook profile settings as public, then it is fair game. In a recent discussion about an ethics bowl case with IIT's ethics bowl team, however, many students took a different view, arguing that in a job interview an applicant should have a chance to put their best face forward, and employers should not be digging into an applicants personal life that happens away from the office.

This case, of course, goes a step farther. While a Facebook profile seems not to be as private as, say, a phone conversation, allowing a prospective employer to access your account seems to in some way violate not only your own privacy but also all your Facebook friends' privacy, as the majority may have their profile set to be viewed only by other Facebook friends.

Should this kind of practice be banned for all employers, or is it just an extension of the more routine online search that is already being performed by many companies?

When interviewing for a position that normally requires background checks or involves some level of security clearance, are practices such as this allowable?

What do you think?

 "A Job at What Cost? When Employers Log in to Dig In" NPR, All TecConsidered Blog . Interview by Robert Siegel, Article by Dana Farrington. March 21, 2012.

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