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Facebook Privacy and California (and Illinois, and...)

California Makes Digital Privacy Law


Facebook Privacy and California (and Illinois, and...)

Illinois joins California on the cutting edge of privacy by passing laws that protect our Facebook accounts from employers.

Getty/Nick M Do

Well, the year has started off on a high note. New laws in California and Illinois have made it illegal for employers to request Facebook passwords from current or potential employees. It would seem that state legislators are not interested in the Federal timeline for addressing these things. However, once again we can look to California as a pace-setter for where we expect things should go.

Facebook privacy has been under attack for nearly two years now, with employers demanding that current employees and job applicants under consideration provide passwords for their Facebook accounts, or login to the Facebook page so that they can look at what the individual is doing in their private life. Everything falls under consideration here, who your friends are, your political and religious views, whether or not you like cats, if you are active on marijuana legalization pages, if you like to drink, where you like to hang out, all on and on. Ethically speaking, none of this has anything to do with whether or not you can do a job, and it is a very gross violation of personal privacy. But employers don't seem to mind crossing that line.

Employers have argued that Facebook contains a wealth of information that will help them to determine whether or not an individual would be a good fit with an existing team. In the fifties and sixties, that would've been a fairly valid argument. Back in the day, employers hired an individual with the expectation that they would be around several years. In those days, you could work day job for 40 years, and get a pension when you retired. A company's reputation rested on its employees in those days, and reputation meant so very much then.

But we don't live in the 1950's anymore, and business has changed drastically. Employers no longer give retirement funds, it is up to the employee to save for their own future. Companies have no loyalty to their employees, either. For example, the ubiquitous "Zero Tolerance" policies concerning sexual harassment mean that all a female employee has to do is make an accusation to take away a male employee's job. Businesses give lip service to investigation policies, but the end result is always the same. Layoffs, cutbacks, outsourcing, downsizing, "globalization", and countless other terms all cover up the simple truth that a company exists for the sole purpose of making money, and if payroll cuts into profit, payroll always loses.

With business models like this, it's hard to see how a company could justify prying into someone's private life to make a hiring decision, but it has been happening. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been very active trying to correct this. Individual privacy advocates like your Guide have also been doing their part to educate the public, and apply political pressure where possible. In seminars, as well as here on About.com, I encourage people to walk away from an employer but that demands access to their Facebook account, or other social media. But the truth is, in today's economy, our personal privacy seems like a very small price to pay for a regular paycheck, even if it is only temporary. When the choice is that, or putting food on the table for our kids… well, it really isn't much of a choice is it?

These new laws that went into effect January 1 are a first step court protecting our social digital identity. This is a huge step forward in the privacy arena. More importantly, California has been on the cutting edge of every privacy law that has come into place for the past couple of decades. This progressive law is a big first-step toward recognizing our social digital identities need protecting. It is not hard to imagine other states following suit. In fact, Michigan has already started down this same road. Federal laws cannot be too far behind.

Social media was designed to facilitate building stronger relationships with friends and family, keeping us in touch with each other, and allowing us to share our personal feelings, likes and dislikes with each other. Your Guide is quite pleased to see that our legislators are still taking our best interest to heart.

At least in some states.

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