Social networking, for all of its benefits, comes with consequences. This isn't news. We talk regularly about the erosion of privacy for users, and the potential damage going social can cause an unprepared business. What's scarier, though, are the consequences still to come. Since we are beginning to see the seedlings of the hairy, scary future ahead, it's best to prepare for some worst-case, and likely, scenarios.
To start, it's probably safe to say that when you joined Facebook, you didn't anticipate that soon your employer, or employer-to-be, would be demanding that you hand over your password so they could scour your account (or, as a teacher's aide in Michigan has found out, that you could be fired for refusing). But that's happening.
I shared my thoughts on this practice in an Emmy-deserving episode of what.the.ferraro last week. You can view it in all its glory below.
The video provoked a great discussion on the message boards about all of the reasons this is wrong, both morally and maybe even legally, and it also led to a discussion about some other unintended consequences here, of which all should be wary.
For example, as Susan Fourtané pointed out, if you, as a job seeker, hand over your Facebook password, not only are you granting this person access to your Facebook profile and personal interactions, but you are giving him/her access to all of your Friends' profiles, as well as anything your so-called Friends may have shared with you in private messages.
(Speaking of, if you're going to go around handing out your password to anyone demanding it, I personally don't want to be your Friend. Another huge consequence, obviously!)
Nathan Wosnack weighed in, too, adding that, with even some universities asking for potential students' passwords, it's easy to see how this can get out of hand: "For now it's employers and teachers asking for access to your Facebook profile, and next it's law enforcement demanding it without a warrant. Or insurance companies demanding it as a prerequisite to having a policy set up," he writes.
Sure. And why stop there? Just think that last January we were discussing concerns about insurance companies, banks, credit companies, and others checking up on people's public Facebook information before approving them for disability payments, loans, and so on. Now we can imagine the possibility of companies taking this a step further and demanding full access to people's accounts. Suddenly the privacy invasions we were discussing last year don't seem so major.
With this trend catching on, lawmakers are seeing an opportunity to get involved. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) recently told Politico that he's writing a bill (to be ready "in the very near future") to outlaw the practice of employers asking for job seekers' passwords. "These practices seem to be spreading, which is why federal law ought to address them," he said, adding that these issues "call for a national solution."
Similarly, Michigan State Representatives Matt Lori and Aric Nesbitt are working on House Bill 5523, which would "prohibit employers and education institutions from requiring disclosure" of social networking accounts.
With all of the press this issue is getting, and considering the involvement of lawmakers, one hopes this new menace will be short-lived. But it won't be the only one of its kind. The more "social" we get, the wider we're opening the doors to our private lives, allowing anyone and everyone to take a look inside.
— Nicole Ferraro , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution