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Demanding Facebook Users’ Passwords Violates Consent

In moments of heightened emotions, teenagers share their passwords. It’s the next logical intimate step, right? If they’re already posting intimate feelings, sending lovey-dovey Facebook messages and texting secrets. According to one study, Facebook users may already be acting like adolescents. And now bully employers want to catch their employees and potential employees in those intimate, vulnerable moments.

Facebook is actually acting more grown-up than the companies demanding passwords, though tomorrow it might be back to stuffing heads in toilets. On the password sharing question, a Facebook spokesperson told ReadWriteWeb the following:

“We firmly believe that you should control what and with whom you share,” says a Facebook spokesperson. “Under our terms, only the holder of the email address and password is considered the Facebook account owner.  We also prohibit anyone from soliciting the login information or accessing an account belonging to someone else.”

Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan also issued a statement on the Facebook blog about protecting passwords and privacy:

“We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.”

Former federal prosecutor and current George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr told the Telegraph UK that employers demanding passwords is “akin to requiring someone’s house keys.” In other words, it’s “an egregious privacy violation.” This is not teenagers sharing their passwords in blissful moments. Employers demanding users’ passwords is anything but consensual.

This was bound to happen. Didn’t you see it coming? Recruiters already check users’ publicly available Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts to find out more about potential job candidates. Users have gotten smart, paying more attention to Facebook’s privacy settings.

What companies fail to understand is that not everyone behaves the same on Facebook as they do in real life. Like moms friending their teenagers on Facebook, the social network is no longer a space for privacy and communication – what you post is what you endorse. This information shapes your social media celebrity persona.

Facebook: Villian, Hero, or Annoying Wallflower?

Today, Facebook is the “good guy,” coming out to save employees and potential employees alike. According to reports from Ars Technica, Facebook may sue employers who demand their employees’ passwords.

But just the other day, Facebook was the “bad guy,” issuing a new privacy policy a.k.a. data usage policy. ReadWriteWeb reported on this change earlier in the week. It suggests that Facebook is “extending its data collecting tentacles in all directions: toward people who never even signed up for Facebook, activities that aren’t clearly defined as advertising.” Most trouble is the change in section 2.3, which allows friends to give apps permission to access your personal information.

Zuckerberg made it clear a long time ago that you should be who you are on Facebook and in real-life. In the social networked era, there is little room for leading a double life. Pseudonyms are only granted for the “Facebook famous”, who have the opportunity to add an “alternate name” that will be displayed next to their real name.

What’s most troubling in this case is that if an employee hands over their Facebook password, their employer can peer into everything, including any private groups that aren’t meant for employers to see.

“For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person,” writes Egan on the Facebook blog.

The bottom line is thus: What you post is your online identity. There are few nuances on Facebook, save for coded language amongst specific groups of individuals. People will see what they want to see regardless of how much Facebook image control you do, but if you have something to hide don’t blast it to your Facebook audience. Tell them in person, away from any technology. Besides, even if your employer doesn’t see your Facebook posts, an advertiser will. On Facebook, you’re the product, not the customer – and your information helps personalize the ads that appear to you on the site.

So if you decide to flaunt your adolescent behavior on Facebook, own it. Yes, everyone has a right to keep their passwords to themselves, as Facebook’s Erin Egan states on the blog: “While we will continue to do our part, it is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves, and we will do our best to protect that right,” she writes. But unfortunately, not everyone is granted consent.

Image via Shutterstock.com.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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