Online Reputation Management Blog

Is Employer Access to Facebook and Twitter an Invasion of Privacy?

It’s common knowledge that colleges, employers and potential dates are checking you out on Facebook and Twitter.  In response, you’ve probably taken every opportunity to batten down the hatches from unwanted social media snooping by parents, coworkers, employers and your ex, painstakingly reading the fine print each time Facebook makes a privacy update.  Last week, MSNBC reported that some colleges and employers, frustrated that they can no longer use public profiles on these sites to “stalk” their applicants, are actually requesting full access — even private pages — on social media sites so they can monitor every status update, tweet and embarrassing picture you post.

One employer, Maryland state’s Department of Corrections, doesn’t request the passwords anymore (the ACLU put a stop to that), but asks that the applicant log in to Facebook during the interview and click through the site while the interviewer watches.  This is voluntary, but applicants are submitting to it for fear that not doing so would cost them the job.

Another group facing restrictions are student-athletes.  Many colleges, like the University of North Carolina, request that a designated coach/administrator on each sports team has access to the athletes’ social networking page.

The reasoning behind these two examples is probably understandable: the employer doesn’t want to risk hiring anyone with gang affiliations, and the school wants to ensure their athletes are adhering to the student-athlete conduct code.  But where is the line drawn when it comes to requesting access to an private and personal information?  Is email access far behind?  Or, as one attorney in the MSNBC article notes, will employers ask to “bug” our homes?

According to the article, Maryland has begun proposing laws prohibiting employers from asking for passwords; Illinois is considering similar legislation.  However, the responsibility ultimately resides within each of us who use social media.  Thanks to our Constitution, we all enjoy free speech.  But we don’t need to say everything that pops into our heads or show pictures of every private moment.  Even when using the highest privacy settings available, it’s important to use social media responsibly.  Unless of course, you don’t mind your boss looking at your honeymoon pictures or girlfriend’s late night status updates…

What do you think?

Is it wrong for employers or prospective employers to request access to your personal social media pages?

How to Change Your Facebook Privacy Settings

With the introduction of Timelines and Open Graph at Facebook’s recent f8 conference, many people are concerned about the impact of these changes on online privacy. On Facebook, your name and username, profile picture, gender, user ID/account number and networks are visible to anyone.

If you are one of Facebook’s 800 million users, and you are concerned about who can access your personal information online, it takes only a minute to go private.

Follow these 8 steps below to secure your account and take control over your online image.

1. Log into your Facebook account and click on the dropdown arrow next to “Home” on the upper right hand corner. Use the drop down and click on the “Privacy Settings” link.

2. Under “Control Your Default Privacy,” click on the “Custom” link.

3. The screen will show you four options to select:  “Friends of Friends,” “Friends,” “Specific People or Lists” and “Only Me.” You can also hide posts from specific people or lists by typing the name in the blank space provided.

4. Then, scroll down to the “How You Connect” section.  Click on “Edit Settings” and after the popup use the drop down menus on the right side of your screen to select who you want to view this information.

5. Next, be sure to click “Edit Settings” to the right of the “How Tags Work” section.  A popup window will appear and you can adjust the “Maximum Profile Visibility” settings and adjust your default settings to “Off.”

6. Scroll down to the “Apps and Websites” section.  Click the “Edit Settings” link and follow the drop down menus on the right side of your popup to restrict which apps, games and websites you share your information with.

7. Click on the “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” link to protect information you may have shared publicly in the past.

8. Scroll to the top of the “Privacy” settings page  to make sure that your new settings have all been applied.

Tell all your “Friends” how easy it is to change your privacy settings on Facebook and protect your privacy.

Facial Recognition Technology and Online Privacy


Facial recognition technology refers to computer-based systems that are able to automatically detect and identify human faces.  These systems utilize a complex facial recognition algorithm. First, the facial recognition system is able to recognize a human face and isolate the face from the rest of the photograph.  The technology is able to distinguish features such as the distance between the eyes, the shape of cheek bones, nose, mouth or chin and compare these nodal points from a computerized database of pictures to find a match.  Image quality, lighting conditions and the distance and angle of the photograph will all affect the accuracy of the match, however technology is improving rapidly to compensate for these limiting factors. 


The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint, joined by the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommending an investigation of Facebook’s privacy practices, in particular prohibiting the collection of users’ biometric data without affirmative opt-in consent.  With more than 750 million active users, Facebook is the most popular social network in history.  Facebook has also amassed the largest collection of photographs in the history of the world – 60 billion photographs.


For privacy advocates the problem is obvious. With 71% of US adults registered as Facebook users sharing more personal information in one place than at any time in history, an unparalleled repository of digital images, the technology to identify users (with or without their permission) and an estimated pre-IPO valuation of $100 billion, Facebook is the most powerful company in the world.


It was Facebook’s Tag Suggestion tool that got the Palo Alto company in some recent trouble.  The technology scans newly uploaded photos, searches images that have been previously uploaded to the site, then attempts to match faces and suggest name tags. When a match is made, Facebook alerts the person uploading the photos and invites them to "tag," or identify, the person in the photo.  It’s getting tougher to keep those embarrassing bachelor party pictures a secret from your wife.


A research team at Carnegie Mellon University recently published a study whereby they were able to identify individuals on a popular online dating site where members protect their privacy through pseudonyms. In a second experiment, they identified students walking on campus — based on their profile photos on Facebook. In a third experiment, the research team predicted personal interests and, in some cases, even the Social Security numbers of the students, beginning with only a photo of their faces.


As facial recognition technology collides with social media, it is going to take a lot of education and maybe even regulation to protect our online privacy in the 21st century.