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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’s Hobbi app was a complete flop

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook seemingly has enough money to throw away projects and apps they know will fail. Hobbi is their most recent flop.

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Facebook failed Hobbi

Due to its abysmal underperformance on the App Store, Facebook is killing their new app, Hobbi, just months after its rollout in February.

Hobbi was the brainchild of Facebook’s New Product Experimentation Team, whose stated purpose is to rapidly ideate, build, and launch experimental new apps – then pull them if they aren’t successful.

Hobbi was designed to help users document their progress on their various personal projects and, well, hobbies. Complaints centered primarily on its threadbare feature offerings. Notably, Hobbi does not allow its users to browse the works of other creators through the app- it only packages media like photos and videos for sharing elsewhere.

A post on the Tech@Facebook blog states that they “expect many failures” from the NPE Team, suggesting that Hobbi was not necessarily intended to last. But you have to wonder… what is supposed to be the point of a tool like this?

Stories are a popular feature on most major social media websites, including Facebook itself. And Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) already allows its users to curate and group posts about whatever they want, including personal projects, hobbies and interests, through their story highlights.

So Facebook created a product that was already made redundant by their existing properties. What is experimental about that, exactly?

Hobbi originally drew comparisons to Pinterest. Both are like digital scrapbooks; Pinterest is a platform for content that inspires creativity, and Hobbi creates progress reports for creative undertakings.

One could also compare Hobbi to the underperforming video streaming platform, Quibi, which recently became infamous for its ostentatious ad campaign, aggressively flaunted celebrity cameos, and ultimately, its overwhelming failure.

Jeffery Katzenberg, Quibi cofounder of Disney and Dreamworks fame, blamed the coronavirus pandemic for Quibi’s flop – a questionable claim, considering just how much free time many have had to binge Netflix’s Tiger King during the lockdown.

The same could be said about Hobbi. People have been taking on projects like crazy in the time that has Hobbi been on the market. Quarantine cabin fever has us baking, crafting, painting, cleaning, and redecorating like never before. Yet Hobbi went nearly untouched.

Nobody used it because nobody needed it. Surely some cursory research would have demonstrated this?

One conclusion is that the app itself was the research – that Facebook’s NPE team isn’t really creating finished products, but rather testing the waters for potential new ones. (Could this framing be an elegant form of damage control, though? It’s easier to say “I meant to do that!” than it is to admit failure, especially in business.)

Still, creating throwaway apps in a bloated industry feels like cheating, whether it was meant for research purposes or not. There are plenty of indie app developers who create great tools with way less funding. Filling app marketplaces with lemons makes it harder for folks to find those gems.

Either way, hopefully we will see some original ideas coming from Facebook’s NPE Team moving forward, because this was clearly a disappointment.

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Social Media

Can Twitter ever secure data privacy, like even once?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter releases private information affecting already hurting businesses, should this even be a surprise anymore? They have a history of privacy breaches.

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twitter privacy

Dear Twitter,

I don’t know if you’ve seen the news within the past two years, but Facebook’s been under continuous scrutiny for privacy malpractices that affected millions of its users, so unless your goal is to be the next social network to infringe upon our first amendment right to privacy, I suggest you GET IT TOGETHER!

Over the weekend, users, specifically businesses, realized their billing information was being stored in their browsers cache. This is devastating news for business owners who rely on Twitter to promote their product, or stay in touch with their customers, who over the recent months have already faced monumental challenges. It is hard as a business owner to not feel this is an intentional overreach of privacy.

In an age where we have actual robots to vacuum our floors, and 3D printing, I speak for the people when I say this is unacceptable.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has been caught privacy breaching. A little over a year ago, Twitter announced that they were fixing a bug, many weren’t even aware of, that released phone numbers, location, and other personal data. AND GET THIS, even those who selected the option to keep their information private were affected, so what the hell is the point of asking us our preference in the first place?!!!

What about the time that Twitter accounts could be highjacked by ISIS and used to spread propaganda? All because Twitter didn’t require an email confirmation for account access. Or what about when Twitter stored your passwords in plaintext instead of something easily more secure. Flaws like these show a distinct ability of Twitter to just half ass things; to make it work, but not think about how to keep the users safe.

Like I said in the beginning, get it together Twitter.

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Social Media

Facebook’s Forecast wants ‘qualified’ predictions, but no one’s asking why

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is asking a bunch of so-called experts to chime in on what the future holds, but can we trust them with the information we’re giving them?

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Forecast app

These days, trolls don’t necessarily lurk beneath bridges in order to ensnare unsuspecting travelers. Instead, they hide out in the comment sections on social media posts, ready to incite wrath and stir up controversy with their incendiary remarks. Because Facebook knows how quickly reasonable discourse can quickly devolve thanks in part to these online trolls, they’ve made a move to establish intelligent discussions through their new “Forecast” app.

The premise of Forecast is fairly straightforward. Facebook has invited an assortment of so-called experts (whether they work in the medical field or academia, or some other field) to cast their vote on predictions about the future. Not only will they share their vote, though, they’ll also pitch in their own two cents about these predictions, sparking what is expected to be insightful and reasonable conversation about the topics.

However, while the premise is exciting (smart people! not basement dwellers! talking about serious stuff!), there’s more than a small amount of risk associated with Forecast. For starters, what exactly is Facebook planning on doing with all of this information that is being volunteered on their app? And secondly, are they going to take precautions to help prevent the spread of misinformation when these results are eventually published?

The fact is, Facebook is notorious for propagating and spreading misinformation. Now, I’m not blaming Facebook itself for this issue. Rather, the sheer volume of its user base inevitably leads to flame wars and dishonesty. You can’t spell “Fake News” with at least a couple of the same letters used in Facebook. Or something like that. The problem arises when people see the results of these polls, recognize that the information is being presented by these hand-picked experts, and then immediately takes them at face value.

It’s not so much that most people are simple minded or unable to think for themselves; rather, they’re primed to believe that the admittedly educated guesses from these experts are somehow better, smarter, than what would be presented to them by the average layperson. The bias is inherent in the selection process of who is and isn’t allowed to vote. By excluding everyday folks like you and me (I certainly wasn’t given an invite!), undue prestige may be attributed to these projections.

At the moment, many of these projections are silly bits of fluff. One question asks, “Will Tiger King on Netflix get a spinoff season?” Another one wonders, “Will Mulan debut on Disney+ at the same time as or instead of a theatrical release?” But other questions? Well, they’re a little more serious than that. And speculating on serious issues (such as COVID-19, or the presidential election) can lead to the spread of serious — and potentially dangerous — misinformation.

Facebook has implemented very strict guidelines about what types of questions are allowed and which ones are forbidden. That, at least, is a step in the right direction. It’s no secret that expectation can actually lead to the predicted outcomes, directly influencing actions and behaviors. While it’s too early to tell if Forecast will ever gain that much power, it undoubtedly puts us in a position of wondering if and when intervention may be necessary.

But I’ll be honest with you: I don’t exactly trust Facebook’s ability to put this cultivated information to good use. Sometimes a troll doesn’t have to be overtly provocative in order to be effective, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see someone in a position of power exploit the results of these polls to influence the public. It’ll be interesting to see if Forecast is still around in the next few years, but alas, there’s no option for me to submit my vote on that to find out.

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