Can Legislation Preventing Employers From Requesting Facebook Passwords Really Protect Privacy?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
March 28 2012 4:20 PM

Can Legislation Preventing Employers From Requesting Facebook Passwords Really Protect Privacy?

113888420
Should employers be allowed to request Facebook passwords?

Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Hillicon Valley, Brendan Sasso reports that Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., is preparing to introduce a bill that would block bosses from asking employees (and applicants) for their Facebook passwords. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has been working on similar legislation since last week.

This is the latest development in the contentious Facebook password debate, which began with an Associated Press report about job seekers being asked to hand over their Facebook login info as part of the application process. On Friday, Facebook announced that asking for a user’s password violates its terms of service; Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote, “We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”

Advertisement

Egan must be pleased with McHenry and Blumenthal’s work. It’s hard to imagine that many members of Congress would vote against the bill, pending any sneaky or poorly thought-out provisions.

But it will be interesting to see exactly what behavior McHenry and Blumenthal will attempt to restrict. Merely making it illegal for organizations to ask for login would not really solve the problem. There are many other ways for prospective employees’ privacy to be invaded. The AP report notes that Sears uses a third-party app to look at the applicants’ Facebook info, minus wall postings, though it requires the applicant’s approval. Particularly in this economy, applicants desperate for jobs may also feel pressure to accept friend requests from their interviewers. This behavior is more difficult to legislate but nearly as pernicious and invasive.

Employers must be nostalgic for the days when people took online privacy less seriously. As Alexis Madrigal notes in the Atlantic’s Technology section today, research shows that “Facebook users have dramatically altered their behavior in recent years to make their profiles less public.”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.