Thursday 26 December, 2013

Social Media and Privacy – Does Your Boss Want Your Password?

As if the typical workplace weren’t enough of a totalitarian system, your office may want to take control of your social media. Companies not only check out their employees’ profiles and restrict social media use at work, but there are some that want total control of your social media presence.

An acquaintance of mine told me several years back that the university he worked for said it needed complete access to his Facebook profile and the right to edit anything he writes.

It’s a bit amazing that there hasn’t been a huge, high-profile case in the media about this yet. It’s a pretty blatant affront to freedom of speech. But maybe things are starting to change. Several states have already passed laws saying that employees’ social media profiles are out of bounds for companies.

Your Boss Is Listening

New Jersey is the most recent. Governor Chris Christie signed a law stating that employees don’t have to disclose their usernames, passwords or any other information to their employees. It goes into effect on December 1st. New Jersey is the twelfth state to pass such a law, following Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Nevada and Washington.

Texas may be next. A similar law is going through the Texas legislator that prevents employers from demanding this information.

But this is a divisive issue. There’s a bit of grey area. What opponents of such laws argue is that employers have a right to protect their proprietary secrets. There have also been cases of people being fired for mouthing off on social media.

But does your employer have a right to eavesdrop at the bar and fire you because of something you said? There’s quite a bit of grey area here because social media is so public. It was never a question before when people couldn’t broadcast their lives for all of the world to see.

Post at Your Own Risk

There have been many cases, some where people have been protected and others where they were fired. For example, when an employee of American Medical Response of Connecticut mouthed off about her boss on Facebook, the company suspended and then fired her. The reason given was that her postings violated the company’s internet policies, even though she posted her comments on her personal computer in her personal time. The National Labor Relations Board went after the company for this.

Since the law isn’t decided yet, there’s a bit of risk involved if you feel like saying something bad about your company on Facebook. Workers have a right to friend other employees and companies need to make sure their social media privacy policies don’t obstruct privacy laws. But post at your own risk. You have freedom of speech but you’d better watch what you say.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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