In response to a deluge of news reports that employers, including public sector organizations, are increasingly forcing employees and prospective hires to turn over their Facebook login information (or have people login and allow supervisors to look at profiles), Facebook itself has decided to weigh-in on the matter.
On Friday, Facebook’s recently appointed chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, posted a note on the social network’s privacy page explaining that Facebook will “take action to protect the privacy and security of our users,” including suing employers who violate user privacy.
The entire note is worth reading, but a few key paragraphs stand out. Egan notes that the company has been tracking the reports of employers logging into employee’s Facebook accounts for “months,” and has seen a “distressing increase” in the reports. Egan states that the practice actually opens up employers to liability for things they may see on a person’s profile:
“This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.”
Later, Facebook cites some examples of the liability employers may face:
For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.
Facebook’s overall approach appears to be one of zero-tolerance when it comes to the idea of letting someone else access a user’s profile:
“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. “
The bottom line: Facebook says it will do what it takes to stop people from peering on user’s profiles, whether that means leaning on lawmakers to slapping employers with lawsuits.
“Facebook takes your privacy seriously. We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”
Facebook’s strong defense of users’ right to privacy comes three days after the ACLU came out strongly against the practice of having employers look at the Facebook profiles of prospective and current hires, calling it “an invasion of privacy,” and saying “The same standards of privacy that we expect offline in the real world should apply online in our digital lives as well.”
Intriguingly, its also somewhat of a departure from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s prior statements intimating that Internet user data in general should be public by default and that privacy is a “social norm that has evolved over time.”