Employers leverage cloud computing to invade your Facebook privacy

December 16, 2008

Employers leverage cloud computing to invade your Facebook privacyEveryone’s heard it: if you’re applying for a job today (and most everyone seems to be), you’d best be careful what you put up on your Facebook profile, lest your personal photos of you and your frat buddies doing keg stands keep employers from considering you a serious and mature potential employee. Well, if you actually get that desired job, there’s a good chance your company might kindly ask you to have access to all of your friends personal information too…you know, because if you’re good people, they must be too, right?

The concept seems fairly innocent. And according to the Bits blog at the NewYorkTimes.com, for employers at least, the intention could very be an innocent one. Cloud computing, at least for these purposes, would allow a company’s cloud, specifically represented by an application or program on a server, to access the big white cloud that is Facebook to seek out potential employees.

The problem is that, due to the privacy-centric nature of Facebook, companies can’t simply scroll through user profiles willy-nilly, as much as they may like to. You have to be friends with many people, assuming they aren’t on a network you share, to view their information. Obviously, not many folks would willingly accept friend requests from BillyBob’s Underpants Inc. (or whatever your employer calls itself), so some employers are trying a more roundabout approach.

That approach is quite simple: if you work for them, they’ll just ask your permission to sift through your friends with designated software. Wait…what?

Though some employers might sweeten the deal by offering bonuses for helping them recruit your friends, there’s certainly a more sinister innuendo to be explored: if you refuse, what will they do? Could you unknowingly be withheld promotion? Could your hiring be contingent upon your agreeing to allow your would-be employer to access the information of all your friends? What restrictions, if any, could be levied by your friends or Facebook to control their privacy once this Pandora’s box was opened?

An appropriate, manageable and safe approach to privacy has allowed Facebook to enjoy the success that it has; even a hint at invasions of privacy, such as the invasive advertising debacle just months ago, and users get skittish. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has a bit of an itchy trigger finger when it comes to finding ways to monetize the huge social networking site. What’s stopping him from charging employers a nominal fee to surf your friends once your employer receives your consent? Beyond that, is there any way to revoke such a privilege?

As convenient as this might sound for employers, the privacy implications are so large, I believe that the complete transparency that would result from companies being able to access the information of every employee’s friends could destroy Facebook in short order. For now, at least, companies will have to go the old-fashioned way: skim resumes, attend job fairs, and hope that the friends of a good worker happen into the office.

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