The City of Bozeman, Montana asked job applicants to provide their user names and login information to common social networking sites on their job applications. As you may expect, this has caused a major uproar from privacy groups.
Just over one-year ago, I was asked by employers about what legalities were involved in Googling a job applicant, or looking at their on-line presence before making a hiring decision. It seems now, however, that once employees realized that their on-line presence is not so private, they began to restrict who could view this information on the Internet.
The city of Bozeman apparently was not happy with the increasing sophistication of people posting information on the Internet, resulting in it being shutout of viewing job applicants’ Facebook pages. So the city simply started to ask job applicants to provide their user names and passwords to social networking sites. The application provides:
Please list any and all current personal or business Web sites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.
Many people and groups, such as the ACLU, have objected to this request arguing that it violates the job applicants’ privacy rights. As a result of the criticism it received, the city said that it will likely remove the request for user names and passwords, but may still require job applicants to “friend” the city in Facebook so that the city could still see what is posted.
I think this policy goes too far. Irrespective of the legal privacy questions raised, I do not think it would be a good hiring practice for an employer. I, for one, (and I think a lot of other people) would simply refuse to provide this information. If the city disqualifies job applicants who do not provide the information (which is claims it does not do), it is limiting its potential workforce of qualified people. Employees using these technologies are computer savy and are at least motivated enough to learn and try new technology. The job applicants who most likely will not have a problem in providing this information are those who do not know how to use a computer or the Internet and do not have any social networking accounts. Are these really the best qualified employees? In today’s workforce, a working knowledge of the Internet and social networking sites is almost a necessity. Businesses are learning about these new mediums and are discovering new ways of advertising and conducting business. It would be a detriment to not have employees who at least know what technology is available and is commonly used.
I also think that this incident will begin the discussion about people’s privacy interest in this type of information. The more and more people begin to “live” on the Internet, state legislatures will probably begin to define specifically what employers can and cannot ask for from employees.
Other articles of interest I’ve written related to employee’s on-line privacy in the workplace: