PLAYBACK: Protecting Passwords and Privacy in a Digital Age


3.24.12 | Facebook comes down on employers requesting passwords; teenagers share passwords as a sign of trust, a practice they might learn from their parents; technology experts comment on online privacy; and why spring breakers may be cutting back on fun in the sun—all in this week’s PLAYBACK.

Employers Reprimanded for Seeking Passwords: Following reports of employers asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords for background checks, Facebook’s chief privacy officer explained on Friday why that’s not a good idea for anyone involved.

“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends,” Erin Egan wrote in a post on Facebook. “We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.” It continues:

As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.  But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person.

The practice may also become a legal violation. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Politico last week he’s writing a bill to outlaw such requests. Password requests from prospective employers, he said, amount to an “unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work.”

Facebook, meanwhile, has changed its privacy policy. As Dave Copeland writes at ReadWriteWeb, the privacy policy is now a data use policy, and if you’re currently using Facebook, you’ve agreed to the name change and everything else Facebook has altered. Sarah Downey of Abine, an online privacy company, shares her concerns with ReadWriteWeb.

Plus: NPR’s Nina Gregory compiled comments from some of the big thinkers in technology and social media about privacy protections and what they teach their kids about online privacy. As for her own practices, Gregory acknowledges she doesn’t post pictures of her child on Facebook.

“Some of my friends think I’m crazy and paranoid, but I would like my child to make his own decisions about what pictures he wants posted of himself on the Internet,” said Gregory. “I don’t trust the privacy settings on Facebook and don’t know what could happen with those pictures.”

Sharing: A Sign of Trust Earlier this year, Matt Richtel of The New York Times reported on a new way young couples were proving their devotion to one another—by sharing passwords to Facebook, e-mail, and other accounts.

According to a 2011 Pew Internet report on teens and social media, 30 percent of online teens reported sharing one of their passwords with a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. More girls than boys did the sharing.

As you might imagine, the Times story includes a number of ways in which such trust ends up being abused and regretted. It doesn’t always begin well, either. Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” said the pressure to share passwords can be compared to the pressure to have sex.

“The response is the same: if we’re in a relationship, you have to give me anything,” Wiseman said.

Richtel also captured a conversation that conveys the appeal:

“It’s a sign of trust,” Tiffany Carandang, a high school senior in San Francisco, said of the decision she and her boyfriend made several months ago to share passwords for e-mail and Facebook. “I have nothing to hide from him, and he has nothing to hide from me.”

“That is so cute,” said Cherry Ng, 16, listening in to her friend’s comments to a reporter outside school. “They really trust each other.”

We do, said Ms. Carandang, 17. “I know he’d never do anything to hurt my reputation,” she added.

Plus: NPR’s Neal Conan talks with Sam Biddle, a staff writer at Gizmodo, and Woodrow Hartzog, assistant professor of privacy law and online agreements at Stanford University, about the social and legal risks associated with password sharing.

Sharing: It’s More Complicated: Social media researcher danah boyd has a terrific post on password sharing, noting she has lots of “fun data that supports Richtel’s narrative — and complicates it.” She focuses first on how password sharing became normalized to teens by their parents, who asked for passwords early on to supervise children or to keep track of forgotten or misplaced passwords.

“When teens share their passwords with friends or significant others, they regularly employ the language of trust, as Richtel noted in his story,” writes boyd. “Teens are drawing on experiences they’ve had in the home and shifting them into their peer groups in order to understand how their relationships make sense in a broader context. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone because this is all-too-common for teen practices. Household norms shape peer norms.”

Continue reading for observations on what sharing passwords has in common with sharing locker combinations.

Managing Privacy on Social Media Sites: Pew Internet also recently found that social network users are becoming more savvy in managing accounts and more active in deleting people from their networks. Among the findings:

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of teens who have a social media profile say the profile they use most often is set to be private so that only their friends can see the content they post. One in five (19 percent) say their profile is partially private so that friends of friends or their networks can see some version of their profile. Just 17 percent say their profile is set to public so that everyone can see it. This distribution is consistent regardless of how often a teen uses social network sites.

Privacy Across Borders: In Canada, “Privacy Matters” will be the theme of this year’s Media Literacy Week (Nov. 5-9).

“Contrary to what adults may believe, privacy does matter to youth and they want the skills to manage their personal information,” Cathy Wing, Media Awareness Network co-executive director, said in statement. “Through Media Literacy Week, we hope to shine a light on the privacy knowledge and skills young people need for their online activities.”

Paul Taillefer, president of the Canadian Teachers Federation, said: “Our role as educators is to help [kids] open their eyes and use their judgment to stay in control of their personal information and ultimately their reputations.”

No Thanks, I’m on Facebook: Finally, spring breakers may be toning down their antics out of fear of appearing on Facebook or YouTube, reports The New York Times

Several college students interviewed on break in Key West acknowledged not wanting future prospective employers to discover anything that might raise red flags about their character. 

But there are more reasons than employment to be concerned. As Lizette Alvarez writes:

“Some want people to know how wasted they got,” said Sarah Bell, 20, a University of North Florida student, standing at Rick’s with a mob of friends. “They want people to know they had a good time.”

What about Ms. Bell? Does she fit into that category?

“Oh, no,” she recoiled. “I’m friends with my mom on Facebook.”

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.