At what point will Facebook start selling your “timeline” to employers who will be as happy to pay for it as they are to pay for access to your online resume?


When is Facebook’s IPO?

There’s a news story that’s made the rounds in several media outlets. It’s about employers that demand a job applicant’s Facebook login and password, so they can check the person’s online bona fides. The Chicago Tribune reports there’s already legislation under way to stop the practice.

The articles ruminate on the whys, the wherefores, and on the proper response. But the proper response is easy: Up yours! This blog has already asked the question about Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?

Everybody does it

But the problem isn’t just with employers. I found one version of this Facebook story on USA Today: Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords. It was the best of the articles I’d read on the subject, so I wrote a comment and tried to post it.

Imagine my ire when USA Today demanded my Facebook credentials in order to post the comment. Say what?? I clicked out of the comments box. Up yours, USA Today. F you and the Facebook you rode in on.

If I want to go to Facebook, I’ll go to Facebook. But when I want news, I expect my experience will be with USA Today, or whatever news outlet I choose to visit. There is no more reason for me to transfer my Facebook bona fides to another website than there is to disclose my salary history to some personnel jockey. “That’s the policy” isn’t a good enough reason. (If you wonder how to avoid turning over your salary history to an employer, see Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)

So, Up the yin-yang of media outlets that are selling me out to Mark Zuckerberg’s database. They won’t get my comments — and I’m not so likely to bother with them next time I want news and discussion.

Did you give permission?

Of course, whether we’re talking about employers, USA Today, or any other partner to Facebook — the problem is suckers who play along. The problem is what you choose to share on Facebook. Because if you think it’s a problem when employers demand your social media credentials, you’re not thinking ahead. Did you already give permission for your credentials to be sold to them?

Monster.com and other big job boards rent, sell, and trade your resume information to parties you know nothing about.

LinkedIn is is now selling access to its database to employers who pay for access to people’s credentials.

Google just got sued again in federal court for misusing your personal information.

Pimping your cred

How much do you wanna bet that Facebook — especially once it does its IPO — doesn’t start pimping your “timeline” to employers who are willing to fork over the bucks? It’s gonna happen. Employers won’t need to embarrass you by asking for it in a job interview. They’ll already have it. It’s all part of “improving your social experience.” It’s all part of shareholder value. It’s all part of turning yet another database of personal information into a “career service.”

You won’t find Facebook managing the comments section of this blog. Not now, not ever. You won’t find me cueing up my Facebook bona fides when I want to post a comment on USA Today. As Mark Zuckerberg starts pimping out his members’ timelines, you’ll also probably find me canceling my Facebook account.

UPDATE March 23, 2012

Facebook has issued a statement: Facebook warns employers not to solicit passwords, calls it an ‘alarming’ practice. Gimme a break. That’s like bars and liquor distillers issuing statements that they are “alarmed” by drinking. My prediction stands: After the IPO, Facebook will sell employers access to your personal data. “A powerful new social feature to help you land that job!”


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  1. You are right on, Nick.

    What happens outside of work time/property is no business of an employer.

    Thee are only limited circumstances where jobs may require some sort of background check. And is Facebook really the best way to filter respondents?

  2. Better yet, Nick – instead of wondering what people put on Facebook or other social networking sites, how about spending time/resources on actually meeting and talking to people, doing more effective interviewing, training, etc.

  3. @Dave: Even when employers have applicants sitting right there in front of them, they want to turn to the computer to learn about them. THAT is inept.

    Imagine it: You have the person right there, in front of you. To do with as you please. (No chuckles. You know what I mean.) So rather than say to them, “Here, this is the work you’d be doing if we hired you. Show me how you’d do it,” instead they want to go online and speculate on what some Facebook posting means…

    Purely idiotic and a reason to fire the interviewer.

  4. Just out of curiosity, how many people go on Facebook looking for a lawyer, doctor, coach/counsellor, plumber or babysitter?

    I know that I wouldn’t; I’d be talking to people.

    But it seems that if I want to hire one of these people for my business, I’m supposed to use a completely different set of rules. It doesn’t make sense to me.

  5. What do they say when the candidate tells them, “I’m not on Facebook.” (I’m not.)

    (Question – Nick – I have a LinkedIn profile that I never do anything much with. Would you recommend that people keep a LinkedIn profile or delete it? What access are they selling to people’s “credentials” – and why do we not need to opt-in and/or be compensated for that? I have to jump through hoops to add a friend’s name to my Constant Contact list – how come Facebook and LinkedIn can peddle personal info without any disclosure or hoops?)

  6. @Arlington: Well, let’s see what LinkedIn says about that. This is what they offer to employers who pay for information on members:

    “Get the real story on any candidate with Reference Search”

    “Contact anyone on LinkedIn with InMail — Response Guaranteed!” (Gotta wonder how they pull this off, eh?)

    “Reference checks are now easier on LinkedIn: See full names of 3rd degree and group connections”

    It’s called pay to play. AKA, monetization.

  7. I tried to “join” USAToday to see if I could post a comment.

    The FAQ says “As a USATODAY.com member, you can participate in the nation’s conversation by contributing your own comments and reviews throughout the entire USATODAY.com site. Interact with our expert journalists, your input will guide the conversation. Connect with other readers on the site. Create your own blog. Upload photos. Find and interact with people like you.”

    Yet, they still demand a Facebook login. I have nothing even slightly polite to say.

  8. @Arlington

    I don’t worry about LinkedIn. I only put information I want people to see. If there is anything even slightly inappropriate, you should not be posting it anywhere, especially LinkedIn.

    I always counsel clients to assume _everything_ on Facebook will be seen by your future boss, news reporters, and future ex-spouse’s attorney. If it exists, it will surface at the worst possible time.

    A suggestion for more thoroughly deleting information from online services. First, change all the information possible with immaterial text, public photos, etc. Let it stay up for 24 hours, a typical backup cycle. Then delete the information and the account. Many (most?) sites keep a copy of the last version before you delete a profile (dating sights want to make it easier to return).

  9. The Facebook database is keyed on an email address. They presume that NO ONE would EVER have more than one email address, right?

    I do not use Facebook for personal stuff (I can barely keep up with my business activities.) I have set up an account for a future business website venture but it is essentially blank.

    If you want to forgo the “I’m not on Facebook” response, create a new account under a newly created gmail or hotmail account, and only put safe, business-appropriate material on it. You can even give a fake name if you like, as long as their name-recognition software thinks it reasonable. The more foreign-sounding, the better.

    As to LinkedIn, as long as you don’t embellish your employment history and details, and don’t create a Facebook-like persona (“Update – Jim had a business meeting with a client today” (really posted – not a joke)) it may be invaluable for headhunters to contact you about opportunities you may not be aware of.

    And of course, create a separate email for LinkedIn as well, forwarded to your main email into a folder.

  10. .

    Thank you for the information. Interesting.

    As to not being on Facebook – and I’m not and I don’t intend to be – what do these dopey employers do when someone tells them that? Figure the candidate must be lying, that “everyone” is on Facebook?

  11. Always remember:

    “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.” -Tim O’Reilly

  12. What’s more about LinkedIn and Facebook and the like websites is that they do not only extract your personal data (and in fact, any data) to sell it, but they also dig deep into your private email account to search for “contacts” – it’s called “people you may know” or “find your friends”.
    It results that it is way to easy not to notice when you actually click a button, which sends out an “invitation” (which you otherwise would not have thought of sending to someone) to all your contacts it finds in your private mailbox.
    This, I reckon, is a serious breach of privacy – except that you actually click it yourself, or misclick (and no return! – even if you click “cancel invitation” it does not work, I know I tried), and are then amazed how, when, where you could have invited that someone (or, in fact, that crowd of people) to connect with you.
    I did just that some time ago on LinkedIn (and honestly, do not know until today when/how I clicked that button) and had later to delete all those newly added contacts one by one, after they accepted my “invitation”.
    One of them went to Nick – and my apologies, Nick, I am aware how you despise these kinds of requests from strangers.

    But, on the other hand, I was also surprised how many people accept to voluntarily share their private information. From among dozens (literally!) of contacts who accepted that shameful “invitation” of mine – and among them most were academics, which you would expect to be very reasonable, if not cultivated minds – only one (yes, 1!) asked me “Do I know you?”

  13. @Malgosia: You just tipped me off to something I didn’t understand. LinkedIn invitations are sent out without the requester knowing it? And that’s why I get “boilerplate” invitations? From people who didn’t even know they sent them to me??

    Please tell me more. Exactly how does this happen — that LinkedIn sends out invitations en masse?


  14. @Malgosia, I haven’t ever seen that happen before and I am on LinkedIn everyday for work. “Find Friends” and “People You May Know” are different. “People You May Know” shows people on the site already who are usually in one of the groups you belong to or they are 2nd or 3rd degree connections. For “Find Friends”, that is on your main page, but you usually have to input your email address and password for your email account in order for the website to go digging into your email contacts. After that, you can choose to either invite everyone it comes up with or choose certain people. Maybe there is something in your settings that gives it permission to automatically go into your account and send invites, but I’ve honestly never heard of that before.

  15. One interesting thought just came to my mind about the comment that they have the interviewee there and are going to the computer to find out information.

    The information that many people put on Facebook has answers to many questions that companies are NOT allowed to ask!

    What an interesting end run companies have found around the inability to ask if candidates are married, have kids, etc.

  16. I wonder if the HR people at Facebook (or LinkedIn) use the same techniques on their interviewees?

  17. @Jason

    IANAL…. I have read opinion pieces that have said that it may be legal to ask these questions but it is illegal to make decisions based off the answers. However, companies don’t want law suits from potential canidates so they generally steer clear from even asking about a protected status.

    But your point is a valid one (and Nicks), 99.9% of the jobs out there don’t need to look at your FB page. I just look at it as a power grab and it would be a turn off to me. To me, it signals that a company expects you to be “on the clock 24/7” and is overly worried about public image.

  18. But – really – what do these employers say when someone says they are not on Facebook?

    Do their heads just explode from facing that reality – that some people avoid what a friend of mine called the “privacy vampire/s” altogether?

  19. @Dave – For the most part I do agree with you and I value my right to privacy, however the thing to realize is that this type of practice is, as of yet, unchallenged in the courts. SO employers can ask for credentials to potential candidates and even refuse to hire applicants who do not comply.

    As to FB selling access to personal information they will have to come out with a new T.O.S. that you have to agree to to continue using their service I would imagine. Additionally there are more jobs that you might think that I personally would want a thorough background check done for… Law enforcement, financial industry, military, most government jobs… just to name a couple off the top of my head.

    I can understand the desire to look at a person’s facebook page because the info that you see there can speak to a person’s character, something that may or may not be apparant in the interview or in a standard background check.

  20. @Atlanta, GA

    I have no problem with back ground checks for certain types of jobs – i.e. I don’t want my CFO/Accounting Staff to have been convicted of embezzelment!

    I think there is a line though. I don’t care if you party hard on the weekends. As long as it doesn’t affect your production 9-5 M-F. These type of things become apparent through simple things as reference/employment history checks. Not by looking at FB posts, IMHO.

  21. Facebook’s “concern” over sharing passwords is laughable. Apparently, they can fine me for sharing a password with my husband, but selling my data to Goldman-Sachs or USA Today is just fine, is that what I’m really reading?

    Yeah, ok.

    Well, I can see I made the right decision in deleting my Facebook account. I seldom used it anyway, and had connected with maybe 35 people, tops. If an employer wants to pass on me because I value my privacy and don’t use Facebook, let them miss out. Come to think of it, that’s a great way to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve yet to see a company in my (small, Midwestern, dying, failing, etc.) city advertise for a job and ask for my talents. I can double revenue – and have. I can streamline production and processes – and have. I can develop new products, bring them to market, and write the documentation in two weeks – and have. I can get a design team’s outgoing mistakes down to zero – and have.

    But what the companies around here seem to care about is whether I’m capable of typing 140 characters on Twitter. The zoo might be able to rent out one of the chimps for the afternoon if that’s all they need…

    While we’re on the subject of scams, have you noticed the abundance of personnel jockeys starting their own LinkedIn groups? My city has 6 of them already, each run by some HR lackey or low-level warm-body fetcher at an employment agency. The lackey preaches at the group members about the “power of positive thinking,” collects their data, sells it to other HR dolts, and of course, invites his “buddies,” half of whom are Farmers’ Insurance or Mary Kay sales reps, and who are all too delighted to clog up the message queue with pleas for the job-seekers to get in on their pyramid scheme. Of course, someone with half a brain inevitably speaks up about the stupidity and inefficiency of the LinkedIn group – maybe someone who’s read Ask the Headhunter – and the HR dolt blasts them with criticism, usually a lecture about “bootstraps” or something to the effect of, “you can’t find a job because you don’t take my LinkedIn group seriously.”

    Meanwhile, all these HR dolts – who again, either work for recruiting agencies or are internal to companies – haven’t the faintest clue where the talent pipeline is coming from. While they’re phishing for it on LinkedIn, and distracting the low-level people with phony jobs that don’t exist, or jobs they’re competing with 4 other search firms to hire for, the hiring managers and executives (and yes, the headhunters) are busy creating their own talent pipelines. They’re sourcing candidates directly through keyword search. I know it because I’ve been found this way and found other hires myself this way. I never bothered with the middleman once LinkedIn came on the scene.

    The game has changed, and the middleman – HR, staffing agencies, etc. – has been cut out of the loop. Joining a LinkedIn group run by one of those clowns won’t get you a job, or anywhere close to a decision-maker, but it will get you harassment, a lecture about personal responsibility, and if you’re really lucky, your name will get sold to a dozen mailing lists.

    LinkedIn should charge all personnel jockeys a premium to register, period. It’s only fair. They don’t add value to the network, just a whole lot of junk and static that’s a major pain in the ass to sort through. If they disappeared from the network tomorrow, the software would suddenly get a hell of a lot easier to use.

    -Alissa, High Tech Director (And Looking For Work)

  22. @Alissa

    “While we’re on the subject of scams, have you noticed the abundance of personnel jockeys starting their own LinkedIn groups? My city has 6 of them already, each run by some HR lackey or low-level warm-body fetcher at an employment agency.”

    My area has several of these “Networking” groups. Not much of value goes on there.

    There are several “Social” network-type groups who meet up in my area. They usually attract a cross section of people, including several recruiters. However, I haven’t found much value in going. I’ve been going to a few more technically oriented meetings instead, and have been ivited on several ocassions to give presentations. I look at it as public speaking practice.

  23. @Dave: “I look at it as public speaking practice.”

    Yah, and it’s even better advertising :-)

    Next thing to do: Volunteer for the committee that plans the speakers. That’s how you’ll meet the people who will introduce you to your next gig.