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Bosses requiring employees to disclose their social media passwords

Businesses may mean well by protecting their brands, but there are ethical alternatives to requiring passwords of employees’ personal accounts be given up – here is what brands should do to adapt.



Employers now asking for Facebook passwords

Because legislation on social media privacy has not been adopted at the speed that consumers have adopted the tools, questionable situations have popped up all over the world, even here in America. Employers are asking potential employees to share their Facebook passwords and binding employees to strict “social media policies,” and tech writers across America are expressing rage at the ignorance of businesses, but at AGBeat we thought we would take a look at the flip side – why are businesses comfortable asking interviewees and employees for this access?

As a business owner, monitoring how your brand is being used online is important. Knowing how your employees are portraying the brand you’ve built is important. Some believe that social media is a great way to know the inner workings of employees, particularly if they are engaged in any illegal behavior.

Because these three things are relevant to a business owner or team leader, many are either asking employees (or potential employees) to share their Facebook (or other social networks) passwords or are asking them to log in in their presence to “shadow” them. While the legality is being questioned, it certainly raises many red flags. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, it is likely to be illegal with amended legislation.

Business owners may think it is harmless and have no intention of taking action on any findings, but as a business, if you wouldn’t ask an employee for a copy of their house key, the combination to their personal safe, or for permission to put cameras in their home, you wouldn’t ask for access to their personal social networking sites.

Forcing employees to be Facebook friends

For the more tech savvy businesses that recognize the red flags and how invasive (and in the long run, potentially illegal) it is to request password information, some are requiring1 employees to befriend someone in human resources or in the organization that can monitor their public profile and public status updates. This still lends privacy in that private messages are not accessible, but still raises red flags.

Again, business owners are not aware of the implications of what they are demanding, and most are small businesses simply trying to make sure their brand is represented properly. For example, ReadWriteWeb2 recently reported that one company notified an ex-employee that they were in violation of their social media policy for not updating their social network profiles to reflect she was no longer in their employ.

As a business owner, you likely take their side in that your name is still being used publicly and likely benefiting the former employee’s credibility, but this particular company thought ahead enough to have a social media policy, but not only did it not likely include a time frame for which employees must change social profiles online after leaving, but allegedly failed to include this requirement in the exit paperwork. It is becoming common for companies to have a social media policy, but most fail to follow through and include any requirements in exit paperwork or elsewhere.

Simply finding a way around the potentially unethical practice of demanding social network passwords is not good enough, businesses must have a social media policy and must execute it across the board.

Facebook forbids password sharing

Fascinatingly, when users sign up for a Facebook account, they agree to the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (the equivalent of the Terms of Service). In Section 4, “Registration and Account Security,” item number 8 reads, “You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”

Also notable to employers, Section 3, “Safety,” item number 5 reads, “You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else.”

The Facebook Help Center tells users in the “Security Tips” section, “Never give out your username or password. Never share your login credentials (ex: email address and password) for any reason.”

So what should businesses do?

Most businesses aren’t trying to be Big Brother, many are simply trying to protect their brand. To achieve this same peace of mind, employers need to do three things.

First, establish a meaningful social media policy that is available online so that potential employees can review before showing up to an interview that asks for their Facebook password (which some will give out of intimidation), and so that current employees can review in depth.

Second, this policy must be thorough and implemented across the board, and as mentioned before, any requirements must be made clear at the time they are necessary, for example requiring employees to remove your brand name as their employer on social networks within 7 days of their leaving the organization.

Lastly, businesses need to use common sense. If you wouldn’t ask your employees for a key to their personal storage unit, their bank account password, access to interview their spouse and children about their character, or an STD panel, you shouldn’t ask for first hand access to their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any account. Your having their password is against the policies of these social networks, even if you think it’s ethical (which it is not, even if you’re well meaning).

Set up monitoring on what your employees say publicly and enforce your social media policy, but don’t ask for passwords or require any user to befriend HR – legislation will (likely) eventually outlaw any business from having access to a personal social media account. Social networks are public and private companies can outline their rules if their employees’ accounts are public, but asking for passwords is over the line even if it is legal.

1MSN Money

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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  1. Drew Meyers

    March 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    There is no way I’d ever give that info to an employer. You’re working for the wrong employer if they’re demanding access to your personal social media accounts.

  2. Matthew Hardy

    March 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    To my thinking, this reveals the inherent “bait and switch” underlying social media and concomitant philosophy that long-standing definitions of privacy are passé. People have been taught that exchanging personal information for free stuff has no cost.

    Mmm. You can’t get a job because of what your SM accounts indicate, or because you won’t submit your credentials. You delete your SM accounts. You don’t get a job because you have no SM accounts — and you don’t know that’s the reason. (Of course there’s no cost.)

    I think this shift began many years ago, when drug tests and background checks were very uncommon and typically required only for the most relevant type of work. Slowly, these requirements became common and for more types of work. I’m not discussing the merits of testing, but societal acquiescence to more aggressive intrusion into our lives — that nobody I knew growing up was used to.

    On your topic, I hope reaction contributes to changes regarding data services, so that individuals are absolute rights-holders and providers adopt interoperability and portability as market requirements.

    To add to your list of comparative technologies and a good model going forward is that of telephony. Would you expect, as a requirement for employment, to submit recordings and transcripts of all your calls?

    > Some believe that social media is a great way to know the inner workings of employees, particularly if they are engaged in any illegal behavior.

    That sounds so innocuous. If someone is involved in what someone else might consider illegal behavior, we already have the police and the courts. If someone breaks a law, gets arrested and is convicted and their company has a policy to terminate based on such convictions, then the company’s interests come into play. Until then, it’s not their purview.

    > Because these three things are relevant to a business owner or team leader

    Because a business deems something relevant, does not make it so. The presumption of innocence and rights to privacy trump all manufactured “relevancies”.

    Branding is a marketing mechanism — a non-personal invention. Because people are not brands, there is no such thing as “personal branding”. In my (hopefully not utterly antiquated) view, companies have no rights to control any time not paid for. For employers to even comment on conduct that is outside of time they’re paying for is an affront.

    I am glad you stated it plainly:

    > asking for passwords is over the line

  3. Pablo De Fleurs

    March 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    If I was in charge of a specific FB page relating to a brand, then I’d expect to have the password be intellectual property of the company for which i was working.

    But personal accounts…no way…EVER. Not my FB, not my Twitter, not my Pinterest nor any of my blogs. If they demand, tell ’em to A,B,C,D,E, F-off.

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Social Media

There’s a subreddit that is literally moving the stock market

(SOCIAL MEDIA) “You can’t change the world on Reddit all day.” Hm. Wanna bet? Some people do bet on whether a stock will rise or fall on Reddit.



Stock market

I don’t gamble. RIP to Mister Kenny Rogers, but this whole folding, holding, walking, running business is bad for my heart.

So playing the stock market is out for me, but apparently, you don’t even need an accountant to place your bets? The good, if foul mouthed, people of r/WSB aren’t just proving that, their playing and paying outside the traditional trading room is actually moving markets!

The subreddit, full name r/wallstreetbets, is 900,000 users strong, and boasts members that have been involved for years. They show off their stock market wins, losses, jokes, and opinions with varying levels of insight on all contributions.

Ordinarily, this’d just be an interesting collection of folks talking stock, but some of their threads have been shown to have an effect on share prices!

Users don’t just share what and how they’ve traded, they also gamble on what stock prices will do, without actually purchasing or selling any. Options contracts allow users to cast lots for less cash, while retaining the power to show actual purchases as hotter or colder and literally moving the temperature dial on them by word of mouth (and possibly pure conjecture) alone.

So I could hop in, put a marginal amount of money down, and say ‘Stock in Pressure Valve Company X is going to go up since more people are buying bidets in the wake of the Corona-based toilet paper hoarders, and they’re a key component’, then pepper in some off-color jokes about personal hygiene and everyone’s moms to blend in, and potentially wait to collect!


After all, not only are surges of humans looking at these bets, web algorithms and cookie crawlers are staring too. It’s chatrooms of the dotcom boom all over again, except more chaotic, more gif-laden, and more monitored by outside forces.

It’d be sinister if the vibe of the sub wasn’t ‘Take literally nothing seriously’. Try discussing ‘chicken tendies’ in a boardroom sometime and see what I mean…although the tide on that might be shifting as well.

The one forbidden thing here is actually using the forum for insider trading. Directly profiting from the rumors gets users exiled, and gets users interacting with them booted too.

Serious business actually DOES occur, who would have thought? I wouldn’t have. Which is why I don’t gamble.

It’s easy to write Reddit off as just an online echo chamber slash cesspool, but when it comes down to it, the American Psychos of the world are on the same internet as the basement-dwellers, and the gap in financial literacy between the two ends of the spectrum is pulling a reverse Pangea.

We need to start recognizing that.

I’m still staying away from 4Chan though.

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Social Media

Facebook messenger gets a major facelift for speed

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook messenger has been around a loooooong time and has started to suffer from build bloat. So the new project lightspeed has redesigned it.



facebook messenger

If you’ve ever spent time in an old-school, family-built home, then you have an idea of what the inner workings of the Facebook Messenger app look like. It began with just a few rooms, but as the needs of the family grew, they kept adding on rooms wherever they fit until the layout no longer made sense and the home became a bloated maze.

Facebook Messenger has been suffering growing pains ever since it branched off into its own app in 2011. As the app became more popular developers worked to make it more engaging by adding new features like stickers, GIFS, and video calls.

At some point, they realized that the app had gotten away from them. The Facebook Messenger currently on your device has move 1.7 million lines of code. An app that big is slow and takes up a ton of valuable space on users devices, so the team knew it was time for a change. The project became internally as Project LightSpeed.

Facebook Messenger is a valuable app for connecting with friends, family, and business connections across the globe. You don’t even need to be Facebook friends with someone to message them making it an invaluable tool for long-distance teams or new business connections. In recent years, the app has begun to slow down making it vulnerable to competitors like WhatsApp.

The development team’s goal for the new app was to make it small, fast, and simple. In order to achieve this Facebook’s team of engineers has reduced the core code by 84%, taking the original 1.7 million lines of code down to 360,000. The new app will be about a quarter of the size of the current app.

A smaller app will load quicker and be more responsive, even if you’re using an older device or you’re in an area with lower connectivity. Current tests put the new app as being twice as fast as the current version, while keeping all the features that users have come to expect. Don’t worry, you will still be able to send your friends stickers, pictures, and obnoxious amounts of GIFs.

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Social Media

Facebook wants to hear from you. Literally. For innocent reasons

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As if Facebook didn’t already own everything that is you, they are asking to hear you say a specific phrase for their new voice services.



facebook portal

Good news, Facebook is now offering to pay you to let strangers listen to you! Well, kind of.

Users connect to Viewpoints – a different app under the Facebook umbrella – which allows them to participate in market research. In this case, participants repeat the phrase “Hey Portal, call,” followed by the name of a Facebook friend, and submit the recording. The whole ordeal is about five minutes, tops.

By finishing this and other tasks, participants can expect to make a grand total of…$5. It’s not much, but at least that’s a fancy cup of coffee for work you can do while waiting for the ads to finish on your TV show.

So, why is Facebook shelling out $5 for people to make voice recordings? Surprisingly, it’s because AI is not nearly as smart as we sometimes assume – especially when it comes to voice commands. There’s a whole host of things that go into how we communicate, like posture, tone and even slang, which can make understanding vocal commands a much bigger ordeal.

In order to make improvements to the system, it often requires teams of humans putting in the leg-work. This means studying the disconnect between humans and machines, as well as creating solutions. Unfortunately, this human touch is also the excuse companies like Amazon use to justify listening in on your conversations. (Sure, users can ‘opt out’ but come on. That’s not exactly something Amazon advertises.)

As more people grow aware of the potential breach of privacy that tech like Alexa or Portal can bring, however, it’s put pressure on companies to scale back. Which is where Facebook’s new paid survey comes in. Unlike an anonymous employee listening in on a random Portal conversation, this way participants opt in, rather than out, of having their information shared.

The academic in me is slightly skeptical. There’s only so far a paid study like this can get, especially when it comes to the nuances of voice command. The conspiracy theorist in me is also skeptical, mostly because although Facebook promises they won’t sell your information or publicly share it, there’s still plenty of nefarious things to be done. That said, at the end of the day, at least Facebook isn’t just swiping information off your Portal…and you even get some pocket change in exchange.

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