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January 2, 2013

Facebook users score a win in privacy from employers

New laws coming into effect this year will ban employers from demanding access to prospective and current employee social networking accounts.

By Tineka Smith

Facebook had announced in March 2012 that it was receiving a "distressing increase in reports" of employers or others trying to gain access to member profiles and information.

The requests were predominantly from U.S. employers and universities asking Facebook to give them access to job seeker profiles or prospective students.

Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan had stated that Facebook would take action to protect its user information.

"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," said Egan.

"We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think its right the thing to do," he added. "But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, 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 if they don’t hire that person. "

Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights for the UK’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) told CBR that the UK employers could have started behaving similarly.

"If interviewers in the US are adopting this practice of asking prospective staff for access to their Facebook accounts, they will start doing it over here," said Veale.

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However, UK employment laws are different to those in the United States.

"Existing UK law is different from that in the US regarding data protection, human rights and contractual law, so it is not clear to what extent the UK would have followed the US in the absence of specific legislation on media privacy," she added.

The new ban has already come into effect in states like Illinois, California and Michigan.

In Illinois and California it became illegal to requests social networking passwords or account information from employees or jobseekers.

Michigan made it illegal for universities to dismiss or deny a student who refuses to submit their passwords to social networking sites, email, or other internet services.

As the new law will gradually come into effect among states this year, social network users can feel at ease that their privacy as well as personal security will be less at risk.

"By attempting to find out every personal detail – which is rarely relevant to an ability to do the job anyway – employers are jeopardising both the security of the employee and the firm itself," Bilmal Parmar, marketing vp for security firm, Faronics, told CBR.

"This comes down to the fact that individuals and companies are unaware of the specific security threats their personal information can pose."


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