It turns out that online privacy is yet another casualty of the recession.
Concerns about the safety of Facebook profiles are valid, especially as the company grows and people share more information on the site. Facebook has had frightening breaches of user trust in the past, and some questions about where its loyalties lie—with consumers or with corporations—remain unanswered. Nobody can predict whether Facebook will end up taking advantage of the information provided by the millions of people who log into it every hour. But while Facebook itself waffles between creepy and benevolent, it turns out some people are using the site to get downright evil when it comes to online privacy.
An in-depth report from MSNBC reveals numerous documented instances of American colleges and employers demanding that students, employees, and applicants open up their Facebook profiles for review. Tecca.com reported last year on a police department in North Carolina that asked people applying for a clerical job, "Do you have any web page accounts such as Facebook, Myspace, etc.? If so, list your username and password." The Maryland Department of Corrections also asked applicants to hand over their passwords, until an ACLU complaint killed that practice. Still, some applicants report being asked in interviews to log into their Facebook profiles and allow the interviewer to look over their shoulder while they click around their photos and wall posts.
It doesn't end with the job market. College students—athletes in particular—are also subject to this invasive line of inquiry. In the new player handbook for athletes at the University of North Carolina, a passage reads, "Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members' social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes' posts." Elsewhere, students have been told they have to friend their coaches, thus giving the coaches total access to their accounts.
To be sure, there are ways to lock down your Facebook account, even from "friends," but should anyone be forced to to resort to such lengths?
In an effort to catch law up with society, two Maryland state legislators are sponsoring a bill that would prevent schools and potential employers from seizing access to people's social networking sites. In the meantime, it's important to take note of at least one major factor driving these insane invasions of privacy: the terrible economy.
It's simple: In a world in which options are plentiful, people don't subject themselves to totalitarianism in order to secure employment. They go to a job interview, and when the interviewer starts demanding to rifle through their personal digital lives, they get up and leave, confident they can go somewhere else for work. The reason anyone is allowing potential employers to treat them like this is because a job is hard to come by these days, and so you do whatever you can to get employed—even if that means having your right to privacy trampled. Illegal immigrants have suffered with this "steady employment vs. avoiding abuse" dilemma for years. Now it's come to the Maryland Department of Corrections. When economic stability erodes, so does the list of things people won't do to get that stability back.