Silicon Widgets Inc. doesn’t want to hire a new VP for marketing who’s all over YouTube with hilarious videos lampooning the uselessness of Widgets. We get that. So in addition to reference calls and record checks, HR departments would be crazy not to add a vigorous Internet search to check on what’s out there for all the world to see.
But asking candidates for passwords to sites such as Facebook? No way. That’s just wrong. The newly surfaced practice is an invasion of privacy and an invitation to all sorts of mischief by employers who have shown, just by asking, that they lack respect for employees.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, is writing a bill to stop the practice, which he sees as an “unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work.” California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer should be out there with him. Two states are preparing legislation, but the practice crosses state lines.
It’s really a case of employment law needing to catch up with the Internet age. Passwords give employers access to information they’re prohibited from asking about, from relationships to political views. The laws also should apply to schools and universities. They’d never demand to open a student’s paper mail.
Nothing on the Internet is guaranteed, or perhaps even likely, to be private forever, even if you’re sure you only showed those racy pictures to your closest 500 friends on Facebook, Google + or the next new social media sensation due out in about five minutes. Students will learn that the hard way when, a decade or two from now, those provocative pictures or drunken rants that seemed so funny at the time resurface at high school or college reunions, in a search by the boss or, God forbid, on their own kids’ computers. Ah, for olden days, when young people vented their innermost thoughts to their friends one at a time on the phone, which was attached to the wall for some reason.
Employers or schools Googling an applicant is fine. If anybody can see the candidate’s sidesplitting Widget videos, then they’re fair game. But asking for passwords to private sites is wrong and should be prohibited.
Even then, it will be generally wise to not post anything online that might cost you a job or relationship in the future. Particularly since today’s kids are the job recruiters of tomorrow, and they’ll know just where to look.