Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Broader Sense: Would You Date Your Employer?

(Note: I'm sorry to say this piece isn't quite current.  I wrote it, planned to post the following day, then forgot.  Since the issue is still somewhat current, I've decided to post it, albeit belatedly.)

Okay, “we the people” lost out already…corporations have the right of free speech…the same right “we the people” often lack.  (Think about it…how many “free speech” corporations have been arrested for doing illegal things, when Occupiers are regularly arrested for exercising their free speech rights?  So corporations now have the right to more free speech than any US taxpayer!)

Now there’s a new ingredient in the mix: employers are asking for employee and potential employee Facebook passwords.

While there may be the tiniest (and I do mean tiniest) reason for an employer being concerned enough to want this information (an employer obviously doesn’t want to hire someone who drinks and uses drugs on the job, for example), the problem is that there are far too many invasions of our privacy, particularly here in the US.  We have few safeguards to our most private information.

For instance, while the whole Facebook password issue is a new issue, abuses of Social Security numbers have been going on for years.  This is extremely private information that has been made a basis for checking on everyone and everything, and rather than that information remaining as extremely private as it should be, known to exclusively you, the government, your bank and your employer for tax filing purposes only; instead, this information must be given for just about anything.  If you apply for a job, sign up for any form of insurance or look to rent a home, that number must be furnished.

Worse still is the fact that with health insurance, there exists an entire database kept of people, for the strict purpose of credit reporting, known as the MIB—the Medical Information Bureau.

You would think an entity known as the Medical Information Bureau would be all about health care, right?  Wrong.  The MIB acts as a credit reporting agency.  Yes, it has far more kinship with names like Equifax and TransUnion than it does with any kind of centralized information or record keeping clearinghouse.  In other words, the fact that you’re allergic to penicillin might be listed with the MIB, but more as a reason to jack up your health insurance prices than as a reason to keep you safe from harm in the case of a situation where you can’t speak for yourself and might receive said medication.  Unfortunately, what also follows is another dangerous potential situation here: your medical records are only useful as fodder for getting more money out of you, and it’s not at all about your health, not in the slightest.

Politically, nobody has any vested interest in such a database organized for purely health-related reasons (and any time this is suggested, crazed far right-wingers make a fuss about people having to be microchipped for allegedly nefarious reasons, because these people would apparently rather be given a lethal medical injection than to have their health records stored for their direct benefit).  But every day, your privacy may be violated by anyone who holds your Social Security number, and for the flimsiest of reasons.  Do you want a part-time job?  The credit check may “prove” you’re deep in debt and therefore are unworthy of said job.  Did you just buy a car and need insurance?  The price of your insurance will depend on your credit rating.  If found unworthy of a good rate, you’ll pay far more than someone else with a good credit rating, even if your driving abilities are impeccable, which ironically, should be no reason to have to pay more and has more bearing on your worthiness for car insurance than your credit rating.  Do you want to apply for health or life insurance?  The MIB will make its report on you, so there will be no getting around preexisting conditions or credit problems.  If you have bad credit, even if you’re in the very best of health with nary a claim in 30+ years, the MIB will still insist you pay more for said health insurance than others with comparable health but far better credit.  Oh, and back to that penicillin allergy…that’s a negative for you, because remember, they don’t really give a rat’s ass if it’s a health issue; if you die from a penicillin injection, no biggie.  But if they can get your health insurance company $100 more per month from you for this “preexisting condition,” hey, isn’t the MIB a great thing?!  Sure beats having a central clearinghouse to protect your health from that deadly penicillin injection in the case when you’re unable to speak for yourself!  Don’t we all like paying more for what could cost us less?

It may sound minor in comparison, but now we have employers not feeling satisfied enough with the wealth of information obtained from credit bureaus.  These employers aren’t satisfied with simply looking at what you allow outsiders to view on your Facebook page, either…no, some are asking for your Facebook password, as well, to sign on as you, so they can snoop around in your account.  And that’s not to do something nice for you, like discovering your hobbies and giving you a gift basket of sports equipment and 50-yard-line football tickets that they know you’ll truly appreciate, but rather, to do you harm.

Aside from the fact that this is forbidden by Facebook rules (it’s against Facebook’s terms to give your password out to anyone), the issue here is how little privacy we’re allowed anymore.  As a citizen, rather than protecting you from your very own government-issued ID—your Social Security number—being accessed and even used by an identity thief, now many people are being asked as citizens to give up a very large amount of privacy; namely, their use of a social networking site.

I see a whole host of problems with this, but particularly, what strikes me is how little this equates to corporate personhood.  Corporations are people, well, not really, but okay, since we can’t do anything about it…corporations are able to access your private information…not so good…and now, corporations want the right to freely see what you see on your personal networking site.

This is apparently akin to dating.  But that’s confusing, because corporations can’t socialize, which means corporations can’t date.  If this is a date, then why is there no reciprocity?  If I give my potential or current employer my Facebook password, this means my employer is now, for all intents and purposes, dating me, but my employer doesn’t pick up the tab here…I do!  I pick up the tab for this date, which I don’t even want, perhaps can’t turn down if I really want the job, and for this date I don’t want, I still have to pay the total bill.  I don’t know…it sounds more like date rape to me than a nice time going out to dinner for a “get to know me in a relaxed atmosphere” meeting.

I won’t even get the first iota of private information on my corporate employer in return (yes, I’m using a worst case scenario, but considering it’s more likely a corporate employer will ask for my Facebook password, than, say, the little mom & pop store down the street, this is more illustrative of the scope of the problem we’re talking about); certainly, none of the private tax returns of any of my bosses, no expense reports so I can see just how they spend money, not even a tiny disclosure of amounts given to charity by the corporation, to whom they contribute (maybe their choices to me aren’t worthy ones), no notations of how much my fellow employees are earning so I can find out if I’m earning a fair amount…nor do I get the Facebook password of the company big shots.

And for this lack of reciprocation, I’m expected to hand over my own Facebook password.

My feeling is this: if I were a Facebook user, I simply wouldn’t give out that information.  If you happen to have a very uncommon name, well, you’d have to hide your account info on Facebook, meaning your old friends would never find you, but at least you wouldn’t have to give that info to your employer.  Let’s face it, there is no legal requirement that anyone must have a Facebook page.  There are many of us who don’t like Facebook due to privacy concerns other than giving out passwords; Facebook keeps track of your preferences, for instance, in order to sell products to you.  Now add your employer peeking into your private Facebook messages, having him know your sister was arrested on drunk driving charges, and you’ve opened up a whole new issue.  Suppose you don’t want people knowing your sister was arrested?  This is a new nugget your employer could use against you.  While yes, it’s blackmail, the fact is you gave your employer your password, due to his request…and right now, two legalities clash: you’re not allowed to give out your Facebook password according to Facebook terms, but United States law does not forbid your employer asking for it.  I may be wrong here, but I would think you’d be liable, should your employer use information gleaned from your Facebook account for blackmail purposes, since you gave him your password to begin with.

It would be akin to seeing a known burglar approaching your house and holding out handfuls of diamond jewelry to entice him to come in and rob you.

So should you or shouldn’t you?  I can’t answer that question for you, but I once again pose the question I asked in the title of this piece: Would you date your employer?  My guess is no.