If I were vying for a job and the prospective employer asked for my Facebook password as part of the final vetting process, I'd balk like a lot of other people. The audacity of some employers in doing that has caused a huge stink online today.
But I have to say this: At least they asked for the password instead of secretly trying to access it through unclean means.
To some of you, that statement will sound ridiculous. But after writing about security for so long, I just expect people to violate our privacy the sneaky way, using brute force tactics, password sniffers, and so on. Since a lot of people on Facebook give themselves easy-to-remember passwords so they don't forget, it wouldn't be hard for some sleazy employer to punch through. If the employer cared so much they could hire a hacker to do the deed.
So when I hear about these people asking for the username and password, I don't have the same "how dare they" reaction. Instead, my reaction is, "How refreshing! They're being honest about wanting to invade someone's privacy."
I realize life isn't so simple. As Carole Theriault writes in the Sophos Naked Security blog, "Picture it: you are at a job interview, and the interviewer requests that you log into your Facebook account so they can shoulder surf as you lay bare your profile in its entirety. Worse, what if they ask you to hand over your Facebook username and password? You might laugh and say I would never do that, but what if you really, really need a job? Many of us are desperate for work at the moment, so it is no surprise that some feel they must comply to avoid being stricken from the candidates' list."
Perhaps when so many people are desperate for work, giving up a Facebook username and password is a small price to pay for employment. And since that's the case, employers feel they can be more brazen about it.
Ultimately, this is an example of how much we still have to learn about social networking. Companies feel justified in prying into someone's private life because they feel that the things a person puts on Facebook speaks to the type of employee they might be. If you trashed your last employer online, the new employer will assume you're the type who will do it again. On the flip side, people give up a ton of their privacy on Facebook already. But then, when they go into a job interview, they feel entitled to privacy when an employer asks about their personal life.
We still have a lot of work to do in drawing the lines between an employer's right to know who they're hiring and a Facebook user's right to privacy.
Maybe in a couple more years we'll start getting this right.