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Con: Viewing applicants' accounts crosses privacy boundaries

By ALLISON MILES
May 6, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.


See what others have to say Pro: Social-media check offers employers insight into applicants

Adults online

The Pew Research Center recently released a survey of 2,277 adults, which looked into respondents' Facebook use and privacy practices. Here is a by-the-numbers look at the results:

63: Percentage of adults who said they have a profile on a social networking site58: Percentage of adults whose main profiles are private, so only friends can see them19: Percentage of people with partially private profiles, so friends' friends and networks can also see them20: Percentage of people whose main profile is completely public

People are entitled to private lives away from work and, some argue, the same principle applies throughout the hiring process.

University of Houston-Victoria student Jeremy Isaac said it crosses a line for companies to view applicants' social media pages.

Employers hire people because they're qualified, he said, not because of how they spend their evenings and weekends.

"When you're online, it's your 'me time,'" he said. "Not 'me and my boss' time.' They don't need to know everything you do."

Some employers have even gone beyond viewing applicants' social media accounts. Some have asked applicants to turn over their usernames and passwords, allowing the companies full access to review accounts, according to recent Associated Press stories.

Word of the requests sparked nationwide response.

In a March 20 American Civil Liberties Union blog, ACLU attorney Catherine Crump called the practice a violation of privacy.

"You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside," she said. "It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account."

Others requested legal action to put an end to password requests.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on March 25 requested the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and United States Department of Justice launch a federal investigation into the trend, according to a news release on Blumenthal's Senate website.

In their letters, the senators noted that account access might give employers information on people's religion, pregnancy status, age and more that, had they asked candidates directly, would violate federal anti-discrimination law.

"In an age where more and more of our personal information - and our private social interactions - are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers," Schumer said in the release. "This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence."

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