Demanding Social Media Passwords From Job Seekers Is Wrong

The issue of corporate or government employers asking for social media login ID’s and passwords for job seekers has reared its head again. See this CBC article entitled U.S. job seekers get asked for Facebook passwords. And see this article I wrote a year ago on the subject. This is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to believe anyone would ask for that. 

It is not unusual for employers to look at what job applicants are posting on publicly accessible areas of facebook and twitter. We can debate what influence that should have on the hiring decision, and whether the use of certain information found there might violate hiring laws. 

But no one should ever be asked to give up a logon ID or password to anything to get a job. It is the equivalent of asking to tap a job seeker’s phone and listen to all their calls, or to plant a GPS enabled audio and video recording device on the person as they carry out their lives. 

And since the employer has access to the person’s social media accounts, it allows the prospective employer to impersonate the individual if they chose to do so, and to obtain other personal information that would enable identity theft. I’m surprised employers would put themselves in a position where they could be accused of doing that.

It violates privacy rights, and the terms of use of most sites. One of the scary aspects is that it demonstrates that the employer does not understand the basic concepts of privacy, security, confidentiality, and breaching terms of use. If they can’t get these basic issues right in the employee context, it doesn’t give much comfort that they understand or properly deal with these issues regarding the information of their customers or constituents in general.

In many cases job seekers will hand over the passwords becasue they are desperate to get a job – even though they know they are being asked to do something wrong. Not exactly a good way to start off an employment relationship.


  1. To play devil’s advocate: if an employer is so clueless or backwards that they would ask for this information, I’d be thrilled to find this out in the interview.

    It would be worse for me to have an employer suppress their backwards thinking in the interview and only find out two weeks into the job that it’s an awful place to work.

  2. Privacy lawyer David Fraser was on Canada AM this morning addressing this very issue (see at about the 7:45 min mark)

    He makes the additional point that it may go against the terms of service for the social networks that people have signed up for (notably Facebook’s) and for that reason alone may be asking the prospective employee to do something illegal.

  3. Mitchell Goldstein

    Unfortunately, privacy rights are typically a creature of statutory law. In many states, there are few protections. I would refuse and make sure that there is public awareness of the bad practices.

  4. Andrea Davidson

    This is happening in Canada as well. Western University’s student newspaper, The Gazette, recently featured an article on upcoming grads being asked for their Facebook passwords in interviews.

  5. Melanie Bueckert

    I completely agree that “demanding social media passwords from job seekers is wrong”, but I will quibble with your comment that it “violates privacy rights”. What privacy rights? Does one have an absolute right to expect that only the people they choose will access their online accounts? I think it is illustrative of the sorry state of Canada’s privacy laws that we cannot say with any certainty that this in fact violates any established privacy rights, particularly in the workplace context. So long as consent is the focus, and reasonableness can be dictated by market practices, employees will not be afforded any practical protection from these kind of tactics.

    While I support the notion that privacy laws ought to be technologically neutral, I think it would give employees much greater comfort if they could point to a statutory provision that said employers were not permitted to ask for unfettered access to personal (online?) accounts as part of the hiring process.

  6. Just my thought, maybe its too simple, but so why not create a business FB account separate from your personal FB account..or did I misunderstand the topic

  7. Joseph, it is a thought, but what is happening is employers want to see what people are posting on the personal side. Even if they had business accounts (and Facebook doesn’t like individuals having more than one account), the prospective employer would still presumably want to see the personal account if they know it exists.

  8. It’s one thing to ask to be a ‘friend’ on FB and another to hand over the password. The former does not violate FB’s terms of service, while the latter does (which I doubt makes it ‘illegal’ in a useful sense). OTOH I would not want my employer (or some human representative of it) as my FB friend either. It’s not that kind of relationship.

    Anyway, the employer, or potential employer, can find out about everything he/she/it needs by a usual Net search. That is still legal, at least in Canada.