Snooping Employers: Oughta There Be a Law?
If you find yourself in a job interview or a meeting with your supervisor, and the dude on the other side of the table asks you to hand over your Facebook password so he can dredge through your private posts for embarrassing evidence of your unemployability, you may be able to refuse to let him on legal grounds.
That is, if you’re in Kansas.
If it passes in the KS Legislature, Senate Bill 53 will prevent employers from being able to ask employees and potential hires for access to usernames, passwords, and other electronic content from a “personal account” on a social networking site.
Nor will they be able to punish you or choose not to hire you if you refuse to fork over your Twitter creds.
Sounds good – in fact, pretty essential, right? Any employer who wants to dig into the private side of your social media presence may as well be asking to open your mail or listen in on your next phone call home. Or, perhaps outright fire you for not calling home enough. (You know who you are…)
But while protecting citizens’ online privacy is a noble calling, does this particular issue need legislation?
Our own SMCKC prez Aaron Deacon doesn’t think so. As he told the Kansas City Star earlier this week: “The idea that employers would have an expectation that they would have access to that information in the first place is kind of absurd.”
Locally based social media lawyer and SMCKC First Friday breakfast alum David Kight of Spencer Fane agreed, calling the bill “overkill.”
“In my experience, most employers aren’t out there looking for this stuff,” Kight said.
Those testimonies didn’t put the story to rest, though. Yesterday, I got the chance to appear on KCTV5 to give some unofficial perspective on behalf of the Club.
1. I do agree the law seems silly.
2. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t mind it so much.
We gotta remember that many people aren’t, shall we say, “digitally mindful” enough to manage their own privacy settings on social media as it is. Sites like Facebook and Google sure don’t make it easy, do they?
As I found out only by chance over the holidays, this last round of Facebook privacy changes has been particularly confusing. It’s made a lot more of your content, especially photos, publically available than you realize. In fact, if you haven’t checked “Limit Past Posts” in your Privacy Settings yet, you need to do that. Like, now.
(For the record, I didn't have anything embarrassing by any means, but when personal photos I thought were set to private suddenly show up without my consent, well, I get angry.)
If Facebook – now practically a utility – is going to keep refusing to act with its users’ interests in mind, then I say that’s where lawmakers are more than welcome to step in.
There are laws against telemarketing and spam, after all -- but no amount of interrupted dinners and fake Nigerian princes are going to cause you the kind of damage as a silly photo that you could have sworn eight times over was private suddenly appearing in your boss’ newsfeed.
It’s also worth noting that Kansas would not be the first state to pass such a bill. At least six other states have similar laws in place.
These new laws trended last year when the AP reported on the twisted little saga of Justin Barrett. An otherwise smart and professional New York statistician, Justin found himself in the awkward interview experience of a lifetime when his interviewer asked him to log in to his Facebook profile right there in front of her.
Wisely, Justin refused.
And, as a result, didn’t get the job.
But who would want to work at a place like that, anyway?
In the end, the best and only insurance is to always keep your social media presence sanitized on both sides of the private/public divide.
What do you think of KS Senate Bill 53 and the issue of employers looking at employee profiles?