Colleges, employers demand access to Facebook profiles


Student-athletes and job applicants from across the country have reported being asked to turn over their Facebook passwords for interviews and oversight. 

With your activity on the Web perhaps being probed by your prospective employer or university, you’d be forgiven for adjusting your privacy settings to ensure they can’t see what you’re sharing with your friends.

However, that may be all for naught. Several schools and government agencies are demanding access to your Facebook and private Twitter accounts as part of the interview process.

Student-athletes around the U.S. are often required to become friends with a coach or compliance officer on Facebook, who then keeps an eye on the students’ friends-only posts. There are also companies that provide software to monitor such posts for coaches, including those at the University of North Carolina, reported MSNBC.

Yet, while many students will be reluctant to share personal details on the site with their coach keeping an eye on them, a little tinkering with one’s privacy settings will ensure that posts and photos are hidden even from coaches’ prying eyes.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Department of Corrections previously demanded that applicants for corrections officer positions give interviewers access to their Facebook account. They then had to watch as the interviewer looked through their posts, photos, and friends. Following a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the requirement for interviewees to hand over usernames and passwords was halted. Yet many still give interviewers access to their Facebook account, as they want to do well in the interview.

According to a report, a North Carolina police department asked applicants to provide their Facebook and Myspace usernames and passwords up front.

Privacy activists have called for an end to such practices, claiming that they infringe on Americans’ First Amendment rights.

“We need a federal law dealing with this,” Bradley Shear, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer told MSNBC. “After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it’s OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it’s OK to turn everything over to the government. But it’s not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution.”

Maryland state legislators have now proposed two separate bills that aim to ban schools and potential employers from demanding access to social-media accounts. The ACLU is supporting the bills.

The practice of handing over a password to another person is also against Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which 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.”

Services like Reppler might help you protect your online reputation by cleaning up your profiles, and unless you post something incredibly ill-thought-out, you’re probably going to be fine. However, granting admissions officers and potential employers access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts can open up a whole new can of worms.

“What if the University of Virginia had been monitoring accounts in the Yeardley Love case and missed signals that something was going to happen?” Shear said. “What about the liability the school might have?”

There’s something to be said about thinking twice before posting anything online. For instance, last year, Wade Cothran lost two jobs after posting a seemingly innocent but profane Craigslist ad.

Whether schools and prospective employers should have the right to look at what you’ve been sharing privately with friends and family is another matter entirely.

Photo by KaiChanVong

Kris Holt

Kris Holt

Based in Montreal, Kris Holt has been writing about technology and web culture since 2010. He writes for Engadget and Tech News World, and his byline has also appeared in Paste, Salon, International Business Times, Mashable, and elsewhere.