MARCH 23, 2012 2:22PM

Facebook Joins the Fray on Invasive Job-Interview Questions

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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

A story about employers asking prospective workers for their Facebook passwords during job interviews has spread rapidly this week on the Web. Now, Facebook itself has joined the fray, warning employers to back off.

When I first heard about the story, I thought it was a joke. But it's serious, as this piece from Reuters shows, with its headline "More Employers Asking for Facebook Passwords." From the Reuters piece:

Studies have shown that Facebook can be a useful hiring tool. Just a 5- to 10-minute perusal of a user’s profile can net more information than a basic personality test. It’s no wonder employers head to the site to check out prospective hires.

But one problem remains: Many users are now going private, cutting off their profiles from outside viewers. As a result, a new trend has emerged. Employers are reportedly now asking job applicants for Facebook passwords. Is this a good idea? Can you legally ask a job applicant for a Facebook password?

Reuters quotes a law professor who says the practice is "an egregious privacy violation," but then adds it appears to be legal. Facebook now has weighed in, strongly suggesting that employers drop the tactic. From an Associated Press report:

Facebook is warning employers not to demand the passwords of job applicants, saying that it’s an invasion of privacy that opens companies to legal liabilities.

The social networking company is also threatening legal action. . . .

In a post on Friday, Facebook’s chief privacy officer cautions that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may open itself up to claims of discrimination if it doesn’t hire that person.

“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password,” Erin Egan wrote.

It's unclear what kind of legal action Facebook might take. But if the social-network giant were to start suing employers who discriminate against its users . . . well, this could get interesting.

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This does raise all sorts of interesting legal questions: Could a person who lost out on a job because he's a Facebook user turn around and sue Facebook? I wonder if Facebook sees potential liability for itself in all of this.