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Job applicants asked for social media logins and passwords

A Facebook login page. Terms of Services agreements for such services have received renewed recent attention.

Kai Ryssdal: Even in an economy with 8.3 percent unemployment, being a job applicant still isn't easy. Especially if you're on Facebook, which means pretty much most people.

You've heard about employers and human resources type looking through job applicants' Facebook page and other social media sites, right? Now they're going one better. The Associated Press reported today that some companies have been asking applicants for their Facebook usernames and passwords during job interviews.

Manuel Valdes co-wrote the AP story today. Welcome to the program.

Manuel Valdes: Thanks for having me.

Ryssdal: So my first question is: Can they do that?

Valdes: I guess they can. There's no legal groundwork for this. Employers are free to ask for your Facebook password and login, according to legal experts.

Ryssdal: Are we free to say no?

Valdes: You are, but it depends, you know, if you really want the job, you may be forced to say yes.

Ryssdal: Yeah. You know, the last time I talked to our HR people as part of an interview process here for new applicants, I wasn't even allowed to ask if they had kids, for crying out loud.

Valdes: It seems this is more prevalent in public agencies, specifically law enforcement agencies -- police officers, correctional facilities and 911 dispatchers.

Ryssdal: It does sort of make sense for public safety agencies, right?

Valdes: Yeah, I mean, they're looking for character traits that would not bode well for law enforcement personnel. People seem to be pretty OK with it if you're applying for a police officer. It's sort of implied that you give up a little of your privacy if you want to be a police officer. However, we did see this at some private employers.

Ryssdal: What kinds of companies?

Valdes: Well, we had a person who applied to be a cashier and was asked this over the phone by an HR manager. Unfortunately this person, he was to be fired.

Ryssdal: We're piling on Facebook, because you know, it's Facebook, and that's what happened when you're the biggest, but what about things like Twitter and other social media sites?

Valdes: One of the people I talked to was asked for his Twitter; again, he had a private Twitter account, so he was asked for his password and login information.

Ryssdal: And what did he do?

Valdes: He refused. But luckily for him, he could afford to do it.

Ryssdal: What other things might employers ask that in the world of social media, you wouldn't want to give up? I can think of passwords, I could think of friending people -- what else is out there?

Valdes: There are also non-disparagement agreements. That is when after you get hired, you get a contract saying you will not speak in any negative form about your employer on a social media site.

Ryssdal: Can they do that? Wow, I'm asking that question a lot -- can they do that?

Valdes: I guess they can. But the ACLU is looking into it; we've seen cases in Seattle and other places in the country of employers doing this. I was reached out by a woman who worked at a shoe store and was forced to sign one of these agreements.

Ryssdal: So let me ask you this: What happens if the AP comes to you and says 'Listen, I need your Facebook account information.'

Valdes: I would probably say no.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I'm thinking me too. Although my Facebook site's pretty boring.

Valdes: Well you know, my Facebook profile's just basically Instagram pictures of sunsets.

Ryssdal: Sunsets? Is that your thing?

Valdes: Sunsets and puppies.

Ryssdal: Manuel Valdes, he's a reporter for the Associated Press. Manuel, thanks a lot.

Valdes: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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