With news of employers, colleges and government agencies requesting the Facebook login details of prospective employees and students, Facebook has issued a statement on the matter, highlighting that it believes the practice “undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends,” suggesting that it could result in “unanticipated legal liability” for the parties that request it.

The company believes that its users shouldn’t be forced to share private information to get a job or to get a place at a college, referring to the fact that it made the sharing or the solicitation of a password a violation of its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Earlier in the month, we reported that US government agencies and colleges were demanding access to applicants’ Facebook accounts — through friending and/or actual password requests. Applicants were not longer able to hide behind Facebook’s privacy options, if they wanted the job or a college degree, then they’d have to give up the goods.

Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Policy Erin Egan points out the risks for employers, stating that if access is requested to an employee’s Facebook account then the employer may “open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person,” having seen if they are a member of a protected group, which could encompass age, sex, religion etc.

Egan continues:

Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information. If they don’t—and actually, even if they do–the employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information (e.g. if the information suggests the commission of a crime).

Facebook says that it will take action to “protect the privacy and security” of its users and will engage policymakers “by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”

In effect, the company is willing to go to bat for users that feel they have been wronged by an employer, which could go as far as filing lawsuits against the companies involved.

Given the criticism the company has been the subject of, it’s refreshing to see that it would be willing to act on behalf of its users, if they are forced to disclose data without their approval.

Facebook says whilst it will continue to do its part, it needs the 800 million+ users to understand that they have the right to keep their password to themselves.

Just how Facebook intends to defend its users is not known, neither is how a user can contact the company for assistance should they be forced to hand over their Facebook credentials.

We have contacted Facebook for more information and will update the story should we receive a response.

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