March 21, 2012

Employee Privacy

Last week my wife asked me my opinion about prospective employers asking for login information to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as part of the interview process.

I knew she was gearing up for an interview at Fred Meyer and was wondering if they were the source of this query.  They were, but not in the obvious way.  She had seen an article on MSNBC about the practice while on break.  She just wanted my perspective since I has "in HR".

In short: bad idea.


Yes, it is important for companies to be wary of social media and how their employees interact with it.  Some work, by its very nature, is secretive or subject to specific privacy laws.  The Betty Ford Center couldn't have some kitchen staff tweeting, "OMG I just saw [insert celebrity name] come through my lunch line!"  Of course I fully believe that some other addiction treatment facilities would love to have an employee do this for the free publicity.

You wouldn't want a cop or prison guard on your payroll who had gang ties.  I'm sure we could come up with a multitude of reasons why it would be good to do a background check on the employees you interview.

The thing is.....employers can already do background checks.  There is nothing to say that an employer can go to Twitter and Facebook and try to look up public profiles.  That is the point for these services......to be "Public".  To transition over to checking out what is private is a bit much.  As this article from Yahoo mentions, a great example is likening this intrusion of privacy to asking for keys to an employee's home for a quick peek.

As somebody actively seeking employment, and one who has a decent amount of experience on the other side of the interview table, there are plenty of ways for employers to snag a sneak peak at the public side of your private life.  Here are some examples right off the top of my head:

  • Google-An easy way to find start a basic look at someone...Google them.  have you Googled yourself lately?
  • Twitter -Not hard to find a twitter handle.
  • Facebook-I know this is the crux of the article, but Facebook has been known to change Privacy Policy and dump your "private" info into the "public" bin until you change it back.
  • Your Car- Yep, you read that right.  You want a glimpse of someone's private life, walk them out to their car after the interview.  Anything you can see standing next to it is public information.  
Ok, only the last one might be surprising to you, but my point is that people tend to offer up a lot more information than they realize.

Now I think that these invasions of privacy will eventually be self-correcting, but for the time being, especially in this bad economy, people will be willing to have their personal lives trampled upon for the sake of getting a job.  

The current working generation is kind of stupid when it comes to social media.  I'm not professing to be much smarter than others here.  We had all this thrust upon us and we don't quite know the written and unwritten rules regarding Facebook and Twitter.  The bumbling mistakes we are making will help influence the children of today who will grow up in this environment like they were born to it...because they were.

At best I only have two pieces of advice:
  1. Don't post while emotional.
  2. Don't let anyone take a picture of you with a drink in your hand.  It is almost impossible to not look like a drunkard in a snapshot if you are holding a drink.  



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