Facebook's Role in the Privacy Debate

Lora Bentley

Two stories from The Register caught my eye Friday, largely because they both addressed Facebook and privacy issues. First, it was this gem of a headline, "U.S. city demands FaceSpaceGooHoo log-ins from job seekers." What?


It turns out the city of Bozeman, Mont., is requiring applicants for city jobs to disclose their passwords for Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo, YouTube and other similar social networking sites before they will be considered. City attorney Greg Sullivan explains, "We have positions ranging from fire and police...all the way down to the lifeguards and the folks that work in city hall here. So we do those types of investigations to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit."


It makes sense to a certain extent. The sites are a nice window into the life of the applicant. And Sullivan is clear that the city doesn't consider information that is constitutionally protected in making its decisions. But there are two problems with the practice, as Register writer Cade Metz points out: 1) Sharing password and account information with third parties is usually a violation of social networking sites' terms of use. 2) The city as a whole may not use the information improperly, but "individual workers have minds of their own."


Facebook is reportedly reaching out to the city to discuss the requirement, which the social networking site finds inappropriate and unacceptable.


On the other side of the pond, Facebook could soon be fighting other privacy issues. Register writer John Oates reports:

European regulators are considering sweeping reform of data regulations to prevent social networks from over-exploiting the private data of their users. Changes would extend data protection rules to third party application developers which use social networking profile data to function.


The changes have not yet been enacted, but are proposed in a report from European data protection regulators.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 19, 2009 7:23 AM Dorris Dorris  says:

It's a good thing that facebook is doing something about that -- it doesn't seem right for a city to demand that sort of disclosure from anyone. The social networks in general are usually public, so it makes more sense for them to simply ask for links to their profile rather than demanding a full view of every detail about their profile (which some friends might not even be privy to). Why should an employer know more about you than your friends?

Jun 22, 2009 10:57 AM Ann All Ann All  says:

I think what Bozeman may not realize is that it risked opening itself up to discrimination suits. (Though I see it decided not to require candidates to provide passwords, so maybe it got some good legal advice.) If it didn't hire a qualified candidate after viewing his/her profile, seems to me such candidates could make the case they were being discriminated against due to info revealed on their profiles that Bozeman isn't allowed to ask about in interviews or on standard applications (sexual orientation, etc.).


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