Embarrassing party pics, lengthy invectives against your former boss and other past indiscretions are the bane of job seekers worried they might be Googled by a prospective employer. Now a new practice is raising eyebrows: Some hiring managers are asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords.
Privacy advocates are crying foul, but the legality is murky. It’s against Facebook’s terms of service to ask for a user’s password, but it’s not against the law. And once you give up your password, you essentially give up your right to privacy. It’s like allowing an employer to do a background check or look up your credit report. Many employers require those as a condition of hiring, and job candidates give permission by signing a waiver.
Should you refuse to disclose your password? That depends on how badly you need the job. If you want to protect your privacy but don’t want to burn bridges, try diverting the conversation politely by saying something like, “I’m not comfortable sharing that. Is there something specific you’re looking for?” Keep in mind that some information—such as your religion and age—is protected under anti-discrimination law.
You can also take steps to safeguard your online privacy before your interview. “The most meaningful way to protect yourself is to control what information you let into the wild,” says Bill McGeveran, who teaches privacy law at the University of Minnesota.
Consider downloading all of your Facebook data as a .zip file (you can do this from the “General Account Settings” page) and using that as a road map to delete compromising posts. Exfoliate, an Android app, will delete batches of old posts for you. Socioclean, which was set to launch in May, scours your profile for swear words and sexual references and flags items to hide. Despite all these tricks, the best tool you have is still your own common sense. Treat every post as if employers will see it, and it won’t matter if they do.