Why Facebook Took a Vocal Stance against Employers Asking for Passwords

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

By: Weston Bonnelle

Employers asking for Facebook passwords are detrimental to Facebook’s core use and their selling point, the ability for users to have fun sharing personal information about their life uninhibited and honestly. For many people, Facebook was their first experience having a webpage dedicated to their life and subsequently have used it as a form of free expression. Facebook’s vocal stance provides prominent discouragement against employers that potentially could prevent users from accurately sharing their goals, interests, snippets of their life, engaging photos, professional & educational attainment and their relationships.

It seems strangely unfair for employers to demand data that they didn’t work hard to attain. If password requests become more widespread then Facebook will grow into an artificial environment, as suggested by this comment “Set up a 'holier than thou' Facebook page and populate it with all those noble, selfless and completely professional activities you would be doing if you weren't down the pub so much.” Although prudent for the users, this cautionary behavior is not conducive to Facebook becoming an advertising giant. In fact some users have taken extreme measures to avoid this issue by deleting their accounts. The illusion of privacy and the ability to manage your image are crucial psychological components for users to contribute gold mine data for advertisers and even government agencies. For example, the Google + circles and Facebook Smart Lists are useful tools for impression management and controlling your image to coincide with the relationship. The more control and comfortable users feel the more users are willing to share and accurately represent their life. In return Google and Facebook are able to collect more data and analyze how people behave according to the relationship which could be valuable for advertisers studying how to obtain more referrals.

Facebook has publicity denounced the employer behavior to shame the employers and assure the users to not concern themselves and continue sharing their life as usual. Facebook’s rapid response has also caused policy makers to act and acknowledge Facebook as a platform that users have a right to privacy over. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that such a practice is an "unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work." Even though Facebook and Google are frequently cited as privacy invaders, the invasion of privacy appears more remote and algorithmic. As a result people disregard the negative press and continue to share private information. However the employer Facebook password requests are abrupt realizations of how much personal, revealing and “criminalizing” information users share that can accessed in just the click of a button. The disturbing stories of how users felt when employers raided their Facebook accounts have more emotional appeal to the less tech savvy users than bitter technical articles complaining about privacy. "I felt disrespected. I felt that my privacy was invaded," he tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel, "but not only my privacy, the privacy of my friends and that of my family that didn't ask for that.” The result is users removing data to appear more professional and/or users anxiously deleting & deactivating Facebook accounts in droves.

It’s important to remain aware of how users and even non-users interact with your product or service and then analyze how this affects the bottom line. For example, YouTube had to be proactive in developing a solution for copyright infringement to prevent the site from imploding with legal issues. Pinterest’s overnight success story has the potential to become a nightmare due to how users consistently violate copyright. Although it can prolong the life of a business if users find new & unintended uses for your products and services, their behavior can also be detrimental to your professional longevity. 

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