Social Media Spying Warnings for Employers

Facebook have weighed in over the issue regarding companies that seek access to the social media accounts of prospective and present employees. In a recent blog post, Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, laid out her concerns over the rise in reports of the practice by employers, calling the behaviour both “alarming” and “inappropriate”, and contrary to the purpose of HR services.

Under the title “Protecting Your Password and Your Privacy”, Egan’s blog goes on to suggest that employers that seek to gain access to anyone’s account – which can mean interviewees being pressured into revealing their passwords – are not just morally wrong but potentially breach elements of employment law: “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”, she said.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that such practice is inherent, yet enough anecdotal incidents to prompt Egan to wade in to the issue; her words make Facebook’s position on the matter unambiguous. Privacy champions will see the condemnation of the practice by such a powerful player in the social media industry as a positive step, while it deals a blow to employers who think they can obtain an insightful character reference of any prospective employee by abusing their position of power.

A recruitment process that thoroughly assesses candidates should not have to breach either employment law or ethical standards. The practice represents a lazy approach, and rather than expose employee’s weekend vices, the need to resort to such lowly tactics moreover demonstrates shortcomings in the recruitment process that a company uses. This is the area that employers should focus on, while also seeking help from dedicated HR services companies, rather than cutting corners that undermine ongoing wider efforts to ensure the online privacy of all internet users.

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