SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Some colleges, and even a few employers, have recently insisted on taking a peak at the Facebook pages of applicants, policies Facebook officials said violate the sites terms of use.

It took a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the Maryland Department of Corrections from asking job applicants to turn over passwords so that corrections officials could log into the prospective employees’ accounts to view wall posts, photos and other private material.

KCBS Technology Analyst Larry Magid:

Colleges around the country now routinely require student athletes to add a college official to their Facebook friend list in order to see posts that would not be publicly available, according to MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles.

While mandatory friendship may be murky, Facebook officials have been emphatic that coercing a user to turn over a password would be considered a clear violation of a policy against allowing someone who is not the account holder from accessing a profile.

In an e-mail, a Facebook spokesman did not address the mandatory friendship issue. But he described the Maryland Department of Corrections policy as “outrageous.”

Of course, employers do have a right to ask employees not to make public statements that embarrass or compromise the organization. Companies have far less authority, however, over comments made privately.

Sharing an online password with anyone, other than perhaps a spouse, represents a clear security breach that opens an individual to all sorts of potential fraud and invasion of privacy.

Organizations that require certain online friendships in order to keep tabs on an employee’s social networking activity, or what an athlete does outside of practice, may in fact suffer from a false sense of security given that Facebook allows users to decide how accessible any post or photograph is to other users.

The growing interest that employers and colleges have in our online lives just goes to show how important it is to be conscious of what we post, and whether it is perhaps more widely available than it ought to be.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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