Would You Give Up Your Password for a Job?

Recently, Robert Collins, a Maryland resident applying for a position at the Division of Corrections, was told to give up his facebook password to the potential employer. Here is a short video recorded by the ACLU of Collins giving his own account of the incident.


Collins holds that he was informed this information requirement was part of a new policy on social media for the department. However, the spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services denied any policy of the sort when asked by NBC4 in Washington.  Collins holds that he was told the information would be used to check for any sort of gang affiliations or illegal activities. Either way, this case leads to many new questions regarding social media and the job search. Is it ethical for employers to check private information on a social media profile? The American Civil Liberties Union took up his case and said it wasn’t.

Many have heard of employers checking out Facebook profiles before hiring; however this is taking it a step further. With his password the employer could have access not only to his basic profile but also to his private messages with other users. They could see his religious and political beliefs, even his sexual orientation, and base their hiring decision on what he had posted about himself. Employers could essentially base their hiring decision on his personal information and private life instead of his skill level and qualifications. If this practice becomes commonplace, then, in theory, companies could end up with less qualified employees.

How? Well, if it comes down to a hiring decision between a well qualified individual with party pictures on Facebook and a lesser skilled individual with a well-mannered profile then the company may decide on the latter as being the “safer” pick. Unfortunately for company, the former applicant (the one with party pictures) may have been the better employee and could have contributed to more productivity and advancements.

Ethically speaking, is it ok for employers to check anything other than public information? Would you ever give up your Facebook password for a job?


Facebook, Microsoft, and make-my-baby.com

In 2010, Facebook made a reported $1.86 billion in advertising revenue. Large corporations such as AT&T and Verizon compose the majority of the top 10 purchasers of ad impressions in the U.S. version of the site. However, according to AdAge there was an interesting outlier in the group: make-my-baby.com. The site was ranked as the 3rd largest advertiser on Facebook, purchasing a little over 1.75 billion advertisements on the social network.

Screenshot from the original make-my-baby.com

Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Make-my-baby.com was a website where you could add things like mustaches, glasses, and hats to a baby’s face. In order to use it, though, it required that users download a free plug-in. Here’s where the catch comes in: after ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick did a little more investigating it was found that the plug-in actually reset browser homepages and default searches to bing.com, the Microsoft search engine. Why? Well according to Kirkpatrick, Microsoft could have actually been paying the site to switch users from Google and other search engines to Bing. After Kirkpatrick questioned Microsoft about the practice they issued a response saying that they were unaware the publisher was not following their guidelines and that they had severed ties with said publisher. Interestingly enough, when Facebook was asked for a comment they replied that make-my-baby.com was never an advertiser on the site and that AdAge had gotten their facts wrong.

Regardless of the specific facts of the case, the example here still raises a significant question: When do online marketing practices cross over traditional boundaries and become deceptive? Andy Lark, a marketing and communications professional, wrote in a recent post that companies should have ethical standards for their affiliates, especially when online. It is clearly unethical to have deceptive marketing practices online, especially when users are having their browser settings changed without realizing it. Holding affiliates to high ethical standards means that parent companies can avoid potential PR scandals like this recent one.

A quick note about make-my-baby.com: The site was reportedly taken down on January 18th, a day after the AdAge article appeared and the same day Kirkpatrick began investigating. Now when users try to visit make-my-baby.com they are instead redirected to a different site called predictmybaby.com which has no hint of a plug-in.