Home > Awareness, Data Protection, Facebook, Privacy, Social Media > Facebook and employers: risks

Facebook and employers: risks

As I presented in my awareness video (Risks for poor Facebook privacy settings), there are some risks in regards those that could use personal data available on Facebook. One category  is the employers because currently, Facebook searches became popular among employers when hiring a candidate. So why would employers need and use personal data for?

For instance someone takes and passes the EPSO Concours for the Law Administrators positions. The Unit that wants to hire the candidate calls for an interview. Everything on paper looks great: CV, test scores, work experience, and Assessment Center results. The candidate is ideal for this position and he has the highest chances to get it. But the HR person from that Unit runs a search on Facebook under that candidate’s name (the search could be done on purpose in order to verify a certain candidate). Through this search, some information is provided to the potential employer, such as pictures of the candidate at a party visibly intoxicated.

Why would the prospective employer check personal pictures of a candidate on Facebook? Because in this way, the employer can find out more information about a candidate in terms of behavior, what he likes, if he is a good fit for their office, etc. By accessing those pictures on Facebook there are two different issues: (1) if the candidate left those pictures under his profile without removing them and (2) if the pictures were retrieved from one of his friends on Facebook who photo-tagged him on that picture. Photo-tagging associated privacy risks seem to be the most common in relation to how employers could retrieve personal information regarding their employees. Two types of possible problems can occur with photo-tagging: firstly, when a person uploads someone else’s picture without his consent and the second, when a person tags someone else’s picture without his consent. Another method that a prospective or current employer could use to retrieve personal information regarding a certain employee is by befriending him on Facebook. In this instance, the employee gives his acceptance to befriend the employer, but again, if someone from his friend’s list tags a photo with him while being at a party, then the same problems occur again: there could be some sort of repercussions from the current employer in regards a prospective job he might not get. The question that arises from here is: are the employers entitled to befriend their employees on Facebook? So far, they are. No legal norms prohibit this, maybe moral norms, but they are not binding.

Moreover, Facebook’s technical features, allow the occurrence of these types of situations by tagging someone in a picture. For example, a prospective employer could perceive the candidate, in a light that does not match a professional career. For this reason the employer could not make an employment offer, while the candidate would not know why they made this decision. The technical capabilities Facebook comes with, for example having a huge audience which one cannot totally control his exposure to it (i.e. employer see picture on Facebook), is a problem because a user should be able to select his audience, and restrict or allow people into his social relation circles. But when a friend of a friend has access to a Facebook x user’s tagged picture, that x user does not select the audience anymore. According to Goffman, an individual behaves differently under different circumstances: if at work, with friends out for a beer, or at the Sunday Church with family.

To support this rationale, the German government intends to offer help to its citizens in regards to posting dubious pictures on Facebook in particular. The German government proposed a draft bill to prohibit employers from searching Facebook for the purpose of investigating candidates’ profiles and private information when subject to hiring. In this bill, they mentioned that searches that are run under professional sites such as LinkedIn or Xing would not be the subject of this bill. For instance, when a user sets up an account with LinkedIn he knows that the website is a professional recruitment site and his normal expectations are that possible recruiters could search that site for his profile. Contrarily, when someone signs up on Facebook, he expects to have social connections and activities rather than employment opportunities. From this perspective, those two sites (i.e. Facebook vs. LinkedIn) are totally different in scope and this should be taken into consideration in regards to their purpose and audience.

As stated by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was aiming for the draft bill to become law sometime in 2010 (i.e. which did not happen until August 30, 2011). If this bill becomes law, the candidates’ private information retrieved from Facebook will not be considered anymore when assessing a candidate for employment. The penalties proposed under the Bill are up to “300, 000 Euros applicable to any employer that refused a job application based on a Facebook profile. Whether it is legal or moral to befriend someone on Facebook, the same Bill proposes the same 300, 000 Euros fine for someone who befriends and employee on Facebook in order to retrieve personal information from his profile.” For example, an employee could post on his Facebook Wall: “Dan is skipping work next week to go to Romania for leisure ‘they’ have no idea” (See Figure 1). Definitely “they” (the employer) will not be happy about this.






Figure 1

The employer should not have anything to do with his employee’s post on Facebook, as the proposed Bill finds it inappropriate for an employer to make labour-related decisions based on such Facebook posts.

The Facebook’s role in this matter could be at least an informative and educational one towards its users. Besides this, if some pictures concerning a certain user are still retrieved from the Internet after the user closed his account with Facebook, then some potential issues could occur such as the right to be forgotten.

From this perspective it is very important for users to adjust their privacy settings on Facebook, in order to not be tagged, checked in “Places”, or be posted information on their Wall without acknowledgement or consent. You can see how to adjust your Facebook privacy settings here.

Any questions can be submitted to:

Additional information can be found at: www.e-crimeexppert.com

Have you ever had troubles with an employer because you Facebook content? Have you ever had troubles with a job search because of your Facebook content? Do you think that these risks apply to you as well? Would you be interested in checking the new Facebook privacy settings?

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  1. September 12, 2011 at 09:25

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