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Will Facebook fight for your right to privacy as a job seeker?

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Online Privacy Being Eroded

Well, probably not, but you never know! For a number of weeks now, rumours have been floating around in the ether that certain unscrupulous employers are asking job seekers in interviews to hand over their Facebook password, presumably so that they can further screen the candidate’s suitability for the job. If you find yourself on the receiving end of such a blatant intrusion of your right to privacy then, under no circumstances hand over your password, or be tempted to lie, such as suggesting you do not use Facebook.

They are nothing but rumours, but we do not doubt that this is going on. There are a large minority of ‘bad employers’ out there, combined with people conducting interviews who are unfamiliar with the law and are not even aware that to carry out a fair interview, there are certain questions that simply should not be asked.

When an employer asks a question of a candidate that does not relate to their ability to do the job on offer, then they may be stepping into the realms of discrimination. Here’s a short selection of the types of questions you should not ask and why:

  • Where were you born? What is your ethnicity? An employer has the right to know whether you are legally entitled to carry out the role on offer, but by asking about a country of origin or ethnicity means they may be using this information to discriminate against the candidate on grounds of race.
  • What is your marital status? Do you have/plan to have children? What is your sexual orientation? Again, it is fairly obvious as to why an employer might want to use this information to decide whether to offer you a job or not.
  • Age related questions. Unless the role on offer has legally justifiable age restrictions on who can carry out the job, then any questions relating to a candidate’s age runs the risk of age discrimination.

We have not chosen the above questions at random. These are exactly the sort of questions that may become quite easy to determine the answers to by having full access to your Facebook account. Under European law you have a right to privacy, and an employer has no right to access your Facebook account, just as you have no right to read your future Boss’s emails to determine if they are a person you would like to work for.

Worse still, by handing out your Facebook password, you are breaching the terms and conditions of their service. Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer has condemned such actions from employees, although in reality, whether Facebook would take any action on your behalf seems unlikely and is yet to be seen. But it gets even worse. It’s one thing breaching Facebook’s terms and conditions but another thing entirely if you choose to break the law. By handing over access to your Facebook account to a third party, you are effectively breaching the privacy rights of all of your Facebook friends. I don’t think they would be friends for much longer!

So what should you do if challenged with such a question? It’s a difficult one as you may well be opting yourself out of successfully winning the job by not complying. If this happens you should probably view it as a lucky escape – do you really want to work for a company who feels they have the right to know about your private life? What you shouldn’t do is resort to lying. By saying you don’t have a Facebook account when you do, or by running a shadow account designed to be used for interviews is potentially fraudulent. If you gain a job by lying on a CV or in an interview and the employer wants to pursue it, you could be facing a 7 year prison sentence!

The best way to handle this is to challenge the question. Something like:

“Good question. I’m guessing it’s safe to assume this is a test, and that by giving you my password would demonstrate a lax approach to security, jeopardising my chances of securing the job. I wouldn’t want to breach Facebook’s T&C’s, or compromise the privacy of my Facebook friends. I think it is important to understand the potential ramifications of of sharing sensitive information, especially when it comes to online security, potential breaches of contract, and the inherent danger of publishing data online. I take online security very seriously.”

Put the above into your own words and rehearse it. On the one hand it demonstrates that you know data security is important, on the other hand you’ve found a polite way of informing the interviewer that they should not be asking a question of that nature!

Have you had any bad experiences in interviews? Have you been questioned in an interview about something you have published online? Do you worry about your online reputation when it comes to job interviews? We’d love to hear more about your experiences, leave a comment below.

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