Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords – Updated

there is now a trend for potential employers and colleges to demand your Facebook password so they can examine your online persona prior to hiring or accepting you

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I recently abandoned Facebook because I felt that the risks outweighed the benefits. I understand the attraction of Facebook so certainly you may feel differently on that score. Nonetheless, if you are one of the nearly one billion people using Facebook, and other forms of social media such as Twitter, YouTube, Google +1, etc. you need to think carefully about how you use the services. As we discuss here at Security Beacon, social media can expose you to a number of threats such as computer viruses, hackers, identity theft, stalkers, etc.. There are also other less obvious risks. For example, it is now becoming clear that there is a risk that your social media activities could undermine your ability to get a job or get into college somewhere down the line. As seen in this article:

RedTape – msnbc.com  – Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords

there is now a trend for potential employers and colleges to demand your Facebook and other social media password so they can check your online persona prior to hiring or accepting you. Personally, I think this is outrageous and that there should be a law against the practice. As disturbing as this trend is, let’s take a minute to think beyond whether it’s legal or ethical for someone to demand your passwords as part of a job or university application process. Consider that even with all of your privacy settings configured for “Friends Only”, there is a very real possibility that anything you post on Facebook could eventually be made public to the entire world without your permission! Realize that with Facebook, your security is only as good as your friend’s security. If they get hacked, your posts are as good as hacked too! If you read my post on why I dumped Facebook, you will see that even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was hacked and his private photos were made available to the world! If that can happen to him, how safe do you think your information is?

Given the inherent lack of security and privacy at Facebook, do you really think that some future, as yet unwritten, law will ever really protect you from your social media past? The truth is, once your information is public on the internet it is public forever! Your potential employer won’t have to ask your permission for a password to find details about your personal life. Depending on what you post, you may someday find that your social media presence limits your ability to get a job or study at the university of your choice. You might not like this, but that’s how it is in a world dominated by social media and effectively devoid of privacy.

If you still feel compelled to use social media, I strongly suggest that you carefully consider how your activities and the people you associate with today might affect your future opportunities and post accordingly.

Update March 11, 2012

I’ve seen several related articles since I first wrote this post so I thought I’d pass them along.

On the topic of whether it’s legal for someone to demand your Facebook password, we have the case of a Minnesota girl who is suing the school district and for invasion of privacy because they “”intimidated” her into giving up her login and passwords to her Facebook and e-mail accounts.” See more details here:

March 10, 2012 CNN – Minnesota girl alleges school privacy invasion

There are several relating to the notion that anything you do on Facebook will eventually be made public.

First up, we have a guy on probation who thought it was smart to steal a Judge’s nameplate and then post a photo of himself holding it on Facebook. He was arrested for violating terms of his probation.

March 9, 2012 CBSNews – Fla. judge’s nameplate turns up on Facebook, man in picture arrested

Then there’s the woman who received a “friend suggestion” on Facebook. She clicked the link and then found photos of her husband and another woman cutting a wedding cake. The husband is now being charged with bigamy!

March 9, 2012 – MSNBC – Man charged with bigamy after wive’s Facebook encounter

A 50-year-old doctor in Japan shared a video on YouTube of himself in his Ferarri driving well in excess of the posted speed limits. Police are now pressing charges based on the evidence he so conveniently provided to the world.

March 10, 2012 – BBC Japan – YouTube Ferrari driver faces speeding charges

And finally, a reminder that social media privacy concerns aren’t limited to the trivial matters of petty thieves, stupid drivers, school girl antics, and sexual dalliances.

Here we have a story about how spies, most likely from China, created a fake Facebook account for a U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander, and tricked senior British officers and defense officials into “friending” it, allowing access to private email addresses, phone numbers and photos.

March 10, 2012 – MSNBC – Reports: Spies stole info with fake Facebook account for NATO’s Stavridis

Update March 28, 2012

This story has been getting a lot of press lately. Facebook has come forward to they are against employers demanding a password. They have also indicated that it is against their terms of service agreement to share the password with anyone.

March 23, 2012 – CNN Tech: Facebook speaks out against employers asking for passwords

At about the same time they were doing this, Facebook was reworking their “privacy policy” into what is known as a “data use” policy. this goes along with the notion I’ve put forth in other articles that Facebook isn’t really about privacy anyway.

March 23, 2012 – CNN Money: Facebook strips ‘privacy’ from ‘data use’ policy explainer

An article at Life Inc. of msnbc.com seems to indicate that the whole employer demanding password problem is being overblown and that hiring managers and HR departments are generally not making use of social media in their hiring decisions. That may be the case, but even if it’s happening only occasionally I think more than we should tolerate.

March 27, 2012 – Life Inc. – Few hiring managers are Facebook snooping

Now that it’s in the media, the story has gotten the attention of some members of congress too. As seen below, at least two US Senators have indicated that they are now engaged in writing legislation to ban the practice.

March 26, 2012 – msnbc Technolog Demanding Facebook passwords may be illegal, senators warn bosses

Hopefully they will also consider adding provisions that prevent the courts from demanding passwords to online accounts and encrypted computers and media as well!

 Update April 9, 2012

I bookmarked this article a few days ago. At issue is a photo that a co-worker of a teacher’s aide sent and that eventually was posted on Facebook. The end result was “she and her coworker pictured in the photo were put on seven weeks of paid administrative leave, and they were eventually suspended for ten days. She said the coworker, who was up for tenure, was forced to resign.” I’m sure we’ll see more on this one when it hits the courts.

April 3, 2012 – ABC News : Michigan Teacher’s Aide Said She Was Disciplined for Not Giving Boss Facebook Access

 Update April 10, 2012

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill banning employers from demanding passwords to Facebook and other social media sites. It is awaiting the signature of the governor. Let’s hope other states and eventually the Federal government follows suit.

April 10, 2012 – MSNBC : Maryland is first state to ban employers from asking for Facebook passwords

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