Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Workers' Facebook privacy warning

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Privacy Commissioner is concerned at reports that employers are seeking access to job applicants' Facebook pages, and has fears that the overseas trend of making it a requirement for employment will catch on in New Zealand.

Commissioner Marie Shroff told MPs on the Justice and Electoral select committee that employers overseas were increasingly demanding access to Facebook pages or even a Facebook password as a condition of proceeding with a job application.

She said such cases were reported in the United States and while there was as yet no evidence of it to that extent in New Zealand, there was anecdotal evidence applicants were being asked to give access to their Facebook page.

"My preliminary view is that it is undesirable to use that kind of pressure in any kind of application situation.

"It is a 'there is no alternative' situation which is likely to put people under pressure and show up stuff they might have done as a silly 15-year-old, and five years later they are a sensible 20-year-old, but there is no way to withdraw that information permanently.''

She said the Privacy Commissioner's office was on a limited budget and had to prioritise its work so could not put resources into the issue.

Social networking had placed an increased demand on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Measures such as Google's changes to its privacy policy had generated a lot of interest, especially among young people.

The Privacy Commission's survey had shown 11 per cent of people regretted putting information on Facebook. The number who changed their privacy settings on Facebook had increased by 14 per cent in the last two years "which is quite significant.''

It had partnered with NetSafe to try to ensure school children were educated about the dangers of putting information on sites such as Facebook.

After the meeting, Ms Shroff said she would advise applicants to ask why the employer wanted the access and what the purpose of it was.

"Potentially, in some cases, they could refuse if they thought it was likely to damage them. Obviously people will have to weigh that up because some employers obviously will want to know how people reflect themselves in their Facebook pages."

She said it was similar to an employer asking to see private material such as letters or photographs.

"What people do need to remember is that Facebook pages need to be handled very carefully. Facebook is part of out social environment and apparently is becoming part of the employment environment, so it's yet another reason to think before you upload, and think before you type that message or post that photo that your Facebook page may be requested or may become available in some other way."

- NZ Herald

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