Does your boss want your Facebook password?
My house has disappeared. It's invisible. You can't see it. It's gone from view. Poof!
All you see now in Google Street View is a six-story blur.
I think one of my neighbors is responsible. The building we live in, and the building down the street where he works, are the only houses in the area that have been censored.
He and I might also be the only two people these days without a personal Facebook account. But as recent reports from America show, the battle for privacy is becoming harder and harder to fight.
Privacy on Facebook is an oxymoron. The company claims ownership of any photos you post. It uses software to identify you in photos other people post. Regular changes to Facebook's range of functions tend to cause private information to be made public by default. Lists of users' "friends" have been passed on (accidentally) to advertisers. While you are logged in, Facebook observes which other websites you visit. The site keeps a copy of your data even after your profile has been erased.
A record since birth
Most recently, Facebook introduced its "Timeline" interface, which gives a reverse chronological overview of a user's activity. Although the company said this would be an opt-in model, it soon changed its mind and made this mandatory for all users (including Spotlight Online).
Although it is useful to be able to scroll back a couple of months, it may be disturbing to publicly relive some events and exchanges that were forgotten. Do you really want the world to have a written record of every conversation you've ever had? Sure, you can delete individual posts, but are you really going to sit down and delete thousands of them, one at a time?
The Timeline, by default, begins at birth. Users are encouraged to submit information about milestones in their lives and to make this record as complete as possible. Many no doubt will. But this is what offers the most potential for abuse. And it is already being abused.
More and more frequently, US employers have been asking job applicants and even existing employees for the passwords to their Facebook and e-mail accounts.
Last year, a man employed with the Maryland prison system was told he could not be recertified unless he handed over his Facebook login information. A teacher's aide in Michigan lost her job for not giving her employer her password after she was accused of inappropriate online activity. Sheriff's departments in several states typically ask applicants for their passwords as part of a background check.
"Like giving them your house keys"
By logging in, employers can learn all about applicants' political views, personal lives and circles of acquaintances — and could potentially impersonate the applicants. "It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor, told CBS News.
Last week, two senators asked the US Department of Justice to investigate this phenomenon, while the House of Representatives voted (for now) not to give the government the power to stop employers from making such demands.
Even without their login credentials, some companies ask job-seekers to "friend" human-resource managers or to log on to Facebook during the job interview and display their own profile. Some employees are made to sign agreements saying they will not comment negatively about the company online.
Isn't employment a contract between the employer and the employee, though? Don't both sides bring a certain amount of trust to the table? That's what ZDNet's John Fontana was thinking when he wrote a very recommendable column titled "Why I should have the CEO's Facebook log-in credential. Now" .
"So I'm thinking I need to ask my CEO for his Facebook log-in. He makes such important decisions for this company, a place [at which] I really like to work. Who knows what Facebook might reveal about his personality, habits and daredevil exploits? I mean, how many jobs, careers and family incomes are riding on it?"
Maybe it will come to this. You can hide your house, but you won't be able to hide your life much longer.