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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.

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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
2ReadWriteWeb

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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49 Comments

49 Comments

  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

Facebook beta features fresh friendly facade you can try out

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is trying to change it’s image, literally. They already changed their logo, now is time for a new design you can see in the beta.

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facebook beta

After sixteen years in the game, Facebook is getting a facelift. Facebook has been working on a redesign for quite some time and they’re finally starting to roll out a beta. Facebook is taking the rollout slow, so it looks like just a few users are seeing the redesign and the rest of us will have to wait. Want to be among the first to test out the new look? Here’s how you can, maybe, make it happen.

If you are one of the lucky few who has been selected to beta test, then getting the new design should be simple. When you log into your account (as if you ever log out) a pop up will prompt you to try out the new beta. If this doesn’t happen, and you’re still feeling optimistic, then turn your eye to the upper right-hand corner of your screen and look for a button labeled “See Facebook Beta.” Still no button, but want to keep the hope alive? Click the drop-down arrow in the right-hand corner of your screen and see if the Facebook Beta option appears in the dropdown. Nothing yet? Tough luck, kid. You have not been chosen.

If the new design is available to you, then Facebook will offer to give you a tour of the new system. The fresh UI aims to simplify the user experience by making the page less cluttered and easier to navigate. Icons will be sleeker and brighter and it should be easier than ever to access your Messenger conversations. And if you decide that you kind of hate the new design, no big deal. Users will have the option to switch back to the classic design, at least while the redesign is still in beta.

Platform redesigns are always a contentious topic of conversation for users. Twitter, in particular, has seen some user drama over its redesigns through the years. Sometimes a redesign will knock out your favorite feature or make a shortcut you used to take in a workflow pointless. And, honestly, sometimes people just don’t like change. Whatever side of the coin you’re on, let us know how you feel about Facebook’s new look.

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Google takes a shot at competing with TikTok, Pinterest videos

(SOCIAL MEDIA) We all love to sit and watch short videos, be they humorous, reactionary, or weird, but here is Googles attempt to get educational with Tangi.

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Tangi screenshot

It’s happened to anyone who’s ever been looking online for how-to help… you click on a likely-sounding YouTube video, only to be greeted by an ad you can’t skip, a whole lot of introductory chit-chat, and three minutes of build-up before you finally see exactly what you need to do to handle your would-be DIY hack.

But what if you could get your answer in 60 seconds or less? It’s the concept behind Tangi, a newly released Google app created in the company’s Area 120 incubator by developer Coco Mao.

Variously described as short-form YouTube, video Pinterest, or TikTok for makers, Tangi was inspired by Mao discovering that her “smartphone challenged” parents were using their devices to watch photography and painting tutorials—and developing new hobbies as a result.

She came back to Google and worked with her team to develop Tangi as a place where such how-to inspiration could be more easily found and taken advantage of. “The name is inspired by the words TeAch aNd Give,” she explained as she introduced the app at the end of January. “’Tangible’—things you can make.”

The philosophy behind Tangi means this is hands-on how-to for the crafty club. The time-lapse heavy videos “could quickly get a point across,” Mao said, “something that used to take a long time to learn with just text and images.”

Videos fall into categories of art, cooking, DIY, fashion and beauty, and lifestyle, and are often accompanied by links to recipes or the maker’s blog or Instagram for more information. Some makers don’t quite have the format down pat yet, but most manage to provide a good balance of visual inspiration and a little more information.

And like Pinterest, Tangi can turn into a time-lapsing rabbit hole of its own. I started with a mere 10-second clip on propagating succulents (I’ve been doing it wrong), which led to a minute on “when succulents stretch” (“etiolation” — new vocabulary word!), which led to a succulent cake which led to a conversation heart cake and before I knew it, 20 minutes had gone by and I was watching an exploding heart science Valentine and had washed up at “Yoda one for me.”

While the app has only been out for about a week … and is only available on iOS and the web … it’s already well populated with content from makers and lifestyle bloggers who partnered with Mao’s team during the development process. And though it’s still in closed-beta mode for content creators, users can apply to be on a waitlist to be invited to upload their own work.

There are a few question marks still. No word on when it will be available on Google’s own Android platform, for one thing. While a couple of intrepid contributors are reviewing education apps and dispensing startup advice, its philosophy as stated by team lead Mao may not extend much more beyond the maker and creative fields to include technology and workplace input. And Google doesn’t always support its apps for long.

But it’s fun, simple, and easy on the eyes. As a place to find quick inspiration and direction, Tangi could carve out a niche.

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New Reddit policy on impersonation mimics other social media giants

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Reddit is the latest social media company to change their policy to protect against deepfake impersonation, because of the harm they can cause.

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impersonation with deepfakes

Reddit is the latest social media company making updates to their rules and policies ahead of the 2020 election. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and now Reddit are all trying to make the social internet a safer place to receive information.

Reddit’s new policy officially bans impersonation with the goal of handling “bad actors who are trying to manipulate Reddit, particularly are issues of great public significance, like elections.”

Deepfakes have become a key topic of conversation the last few years. In the wake of the mass spreading of misinformation during the 2016 presidential election, users have grown wearier than ever of the information they see online. Deepfakes are no longer a niche subject, but an everyday pain point that technology companies are scrambling to control.

In a statement made on r/redditsecurity, Reddit informed users of the change to website policy stating, “Reddit does not allow content that impersonates individuals or entities in a misleading or deceptive manner. This not only includes using a Reddit account to impersonate someone, but also encompasses things such as domains that mimic others, as well as deepfakes or other manipulated content presented to mislead, or falsely attributed to an individual or entity.”

The platform isn’t trying to make a mass change to it’s often humor driven culture. Parody and satire are still allowed forms of impersonation so long as the joke is obvious. Reddit has vowed to always take context into account when looking at cases of user impersonation.

It’s a good sign for society when popular social platforms start taking their role in controlling the spread of false information seriously. Companies like Reddit are in a position to create real change in the way we spread and consume information about major global events.

What’s unclear is how much man power these companies are putting behind their policies. Reddit ends their statement by pointing users to a report form that users can submit if they or someone else is the victim of impersonation. The question users should be asking is how long would it take to get a response or see action on these reports?

Policy changes are great, but if companies are simply throwing them onto their fine print with no resources behind enforcement then it’s not social change, it’s just legal jargon to protect their ass.

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