Employers Asking for Facebook Passwords

In Protecting Your Passwords and Your Privacy (March 23, 2012), Facebook reports a rise in “employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords.” Facebook’s good advice: Don’t do it, whether you’re an employee or an employer.

It’s a bad idea in so many ways, in addition to the obvious intrusion into your privacy:

  • You’d violate the terms of your Facebook account. Facebook’s Statements of Rights and Responsibilities says “You will not share your password” and you will not “let anyone else access your account.” I question the overall ethics of an organization that asks you to violate agreements.
  • It violates the privacy of your friends, too. Friends who thought they were sharing just with you or a limited group would be in for a surprise. And then what if your friend turns out to be someone the employer knows?
  • Virtually every set of privacy/security guidelines available tells you not to share your password. Keeping your passwords to yourself is a widely recognized best practice.
  • Using someone else’s password is identity theft. You’re not just getting access to their info. You are that person, for online purposes. Anything you do with their account will look like that person did it. What if you (as the employer) accidentally delete something on someone’s Facebook account? or post something when you forgot to log out of someone else’s identity?
  • It’s like asking illegal interview questions. As an example, take a look at Steer clear of these 10 illegal job interview questions. Every one of the 10 questions listed there – like family status and plans, religion, and age – is the kind of thing you could find out if you logged in on someone else’s Facebook account.
  • You can become a suspect. Twenty or so years ago, before Facebook of course, we had a team that used a shared ID and password instead of individual IDs. At first, they resisted the idea of moving to individual IDs. (Even that long ago, sharing passwords was recognized as a bad practice, so we stamped it out where we found it.) They didn’t want to hear about best practices or other noble purposes that interfered with their perceived convenience. What finally won them over? “What if something goes wrong, and we find out that account did it? If you use that account, you become a suspect.” That got their attention. They couldn’t get individual accounts fast enough. Bring that forward to Facebook. If an employer has access to the Facebook ID of someone who’s up to no good, the employer becomes a suspect. A malicious Facebook user only has to say, “It wasn’t me, but Company X uses my account too; they did it.”

For my part, I’ve never encountered an employer who dared to ask employees and candidates for their passwords to Facebook or anything else. I’m alarmed that Facebook is reporting an increase.

I don’t have particular heartburn over an employer seeing what you’ve posted publicly. You did, after all, make it public on the Internet, so there’s no expectation of privacy there. An employer who wants to see what you didn’t make public, and who wants not only to see it, but also to use your online identity, is an altogether different matter.


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When you’ve got bad news to deliver

Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes offers good guidance for organizations in the news, but the guidance also jibes[1] with my own experiences in IT and on the board of directors of a member organization. When you’ve got bad or controversial news to share with your public, be up front about it, now, and address the situation from your audience’s perspective. In the long run, your target audience will think more highly of you if you’re frank, timely, and realistic about bad news. Even if your news won’t trouble most of your audience, you can still lose their confidence if they think you botched your communications to the angry few.

The “Seven Rules” would have been useful in some recent PR fiascos, like the continuing sagas of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke. Komen and Limbaugh have both lost a lot of support because they didn’t respond to the controversy in a good and timely manner.

In IT and in member organizations, my news has never been on that scale, with nationwide or broader coverage in news media and social media. But even when your public is smaller, sometimes the news will stir their passions and suspicions. You need to tell people what’s going on, as frankly as you can, with an understanding of how this affects them. Got a service outage? Just say so, even if you don’t know the whole story yet. Something sooner is better than everything later.

Did you just make a controversial decision? Say so, and say why, and show that you understand what it means to people. Start the conversation. Don’t wait until the angry mob is at your door with torches and pitchforks.

You aren’t sure it’s time to announce? If you’re wondering, it’s time. If in doubt, send it out.

If the news is something you saw coming because you created it, shame on you if you didn’t plan ahead for the likely PR backlash. I get the impression that Komen disregarded all seven rules when they announced their Planned Parenthood funding decision.

If the news smacked you unexpectedly, like the 2010 BP oil spill, shame on you if you didn’t have a boilerplate communications plan in hand for unscheduled challenges.

The Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes are really just good common sense, but only if you take the long view. A natural reaction is to take the short view and try to avoid the initial unpleasantness, but that approach doesn’t pay off in the long run. In the long run, your audience will trust you more if you’re up front with them when you need to be.


[1] Footnote for usage fans: The word in this case is “jibes,” not “jives.” I often hear people use “jive” when “jibe” would have been the correct word.

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Visitors, Not Locusts

What’s the opposite of “a plague of locusts”? How about “an enjoyment of visitors”?

We returned, not long ago, from our second Caribbean cruise. As before, we deliberately chose a small cruise ship with a mere 300 passengers, instead of a large cruise ship with thousands of passengers. Also as before, we loved it, and much of our enjoyment came from being on a smaller cruise ship.

If the ship is small enough, you get to visit places the big cruise ships bypass. You feel more like a visitor than a plague of locusts. We had avoided cruises for years because we heard mostly about the big mega-ships with four digits’ worth of passengers, fixed dining times, Vegas-style shows on board, and massive crowds descending on big tourist destinations. None of those features held any attraction for us.

On our first cruise, the difference was illustrated clearly for me when the ship stopped at Saint Martin. We arrived in Marigot, the capital on the French side of the island – too small for big cruise ships. Our 300-passenger ship was the big ship in port. We had a pleasant visit walking around the town and stopping for a nice lunch of local food. There were no crowds and no rush. We felt like visitors getting a taste of the local culture.

Then we took a bus over to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side (Sint Maarten). Looking out into the harbor, we saw several big cruise ships lined up. We guessed there were 5 to 10 thousand tourists swarming the place. Philipsburg was picturesque and welcoming, but the tourist area was crowded, crowded, crowded. That made it less enjoyable for us. It was somewhat like a trip to Epcot Center – a busy tourist-ized emulation instead of the real thing. (We’ve enjoyed Epcot Center in its own way in the past, but it’s still an emulation, not a substitute for experiencing another country or another culture.)

Saint Martin was the starting point on our recent cruise. We flew in a day early and stayed in Marigot. Again, we had a perfectly delightful visit. We got to look around the town, check out the market, relax when and where we felt like it, and eat some good food. We had our pick of where we wanted to go, because we weren’t swept up in a locust swarm. We got to talk to locals.

Interesting side note: In Sint Maarten, I didn’t spot a single word of Dutch anywhere, except where a Dutch surname showed up in some company’s name. All the signs were in English: stores, restaurants, civic buildings, road signs, everything. The Sint Maarten constitution says Dutch and English are the official languages; nevertheless, I didn’t see or hear a word of Dutch anywhere.

The difference between big ships and small was illustrated for us again when the ship landed in Le Marin, Martinique. According to the excursion manager on board, there were about 10,000 cruise passengers descending on Fort-de-France, several miles away. In Le Marin, we were visitors, and ours was the big ship in port. We had the chance to interact with the local population. We got to visit places that the local population would visit. It seemed like the most frequently asked question from the Martinicans was an eager “Are you Americans from the boat?”

At just about every cruise stop, the tourist crowds were small enough to let us enjoy the local sights and culture at a satisfactory pace. And our “hotel” (the ship) was nearby. That’s what we wanted out of a cruise.


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10 Ways to Persuade Me Not to Take Your Cold Call

My job, IT Director, is a cold call magnet. Generally 9 voice mail messages out of 10 are cold calls from someone I’ve never done business with, who’d like “just a few minutes of your time” to tell me about their wonderful products and services and to quiz me about our upcoming initiatives. My phone rings many times a day, but I don’t answer it if I don’t recognize the number. When I review my voice mail, I delete a message as soon as I recognize it’s a cold call. You’ve already taken a few minutes of my time by making me wade through voice mail that’s 90% useless to me.

I did a Google search for inspiration on a voice mail greeting that would discourage cold callers without discouraging the welcome callers. My concern is that any greeting that says that some messages are unwelcome would discourage those I really want to hear from.

I didn’t have any luck with the intended search results, not that I expected any, but I ran across a site that offered 10 Ways to Persuade Someone to Take Your Cold Call. I read through it and mostly shuddered. This is what they’re telling cold callers to try? Yeesh. Let’s review…

“Name dropping.” Um, no – not unless it’s a real referral. It’s not a real referral if you cold-call Jane Doe, and she gives you my name. Pretending she has endorsed your call just about guarantees I won’t want to do business with you. It’s a real referral if Jane Doe tells me she recommends you.

“Offer information of value.” Nice idea, but I’ve never once heard a cold caller offer me information of value. You have no experience with me, so you wouldn’t know what would be of value to me anyway. Telling me you’re running a special or that you’ll be in the area isn’t of value.

“Phone ahead.” Darn tootin’, you’re wasting your time if you show up unannounced, but cold calling ahead of time isn’t going to get you a meeting either.

“Make them smile.” No, don’t. It’s a cold call, so by definition, you don’t know me. You don’t know what I’d find amusing. The moment I realize your attempt at humor was just a ploy to trick me into listening to a cold call, I won’t want to do business with you.

“Ask for information.” No, sorry, I’m not going to do your homework for you, and I’m not going to start sharing details about our IT environment with a total stranger. Ever hear of social engineering attacks?

“No selling today.” Fine. I agree. You’re not selling me anything today.

“Know your client.” Good advice. Many cold callers fail to do this. This is one of the two listed suggestions that don’t make me shudder. If you know nothing about us, I’ll have no patience for you. If you’re a well-informed cold caller, just maybe I’ll think you weren’t so bad. I can think of only one time in the past year or so when a well-informed cold caller had me thinking he was worth keeping in mind. We’re still not his customer, but if I’m in a market for his product, I’ll be willing to contact him.

“Peak their interest.” Okay, the word you want is pique (as in “Brightly colored objects pique a baby’s interest”). You could say, however, that my interest in your company did in fact peak in the first second or two, and then it was downhill from there. Anyway, how would you know what’s of interest to me, if you’ve never met me? In any case, an attempt to pique my interest with “Did you know” material could wind up looking like another ploy, which means you’ve annoyed me and wasted my time. I won’t want to do business with you.

“I’ll be back.” Oh great, threaten to keep calling until I return your call. Make it a contest of wills. That’ll win my business every time. There was one time this method got me to return a call, because the cold caller was leaving voice mail once or twice a day every day for a few weeks, letting me know he’d call again later. I was getting so annoyed I finally called him back. Do you think I called him back because I wanted to be his customer?

“Email introduction.” Now you’re talking. If you’ve got a good business relationship with someone whose recommendation I trust, and that person recommends you, I’m willing to consider you – when we need your products and services. However, if Jane Doe forwards an email saying “Got this out of the blue, passing it along in case you’re interested,” I don’t consider that an actual introduction.

Cold callers apparently use a mosquito larvae strategy: Crank ’em out by the zillions, and if a few survive to adulthood, that’s success. I understand that, but it means I have a pest control problem.

My advice to cold callers: Don’t call me. Do your homework about what kind of organization we are. Send me an email that gets to the point of what you’re offering that’s relevant, and tell me where I can get more info. If I need your stuff, I’ll consider you. Done.

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Liberal, Lefty Hollywood or Stodgy, Conservative Hollywood?

“Hollywood” often has a liberal, left-leaning reputation.

But an interesting take on this is the Bechdel Test. It looks in particular at the female presence in a movie. It involves three simple requirements. The movie must have 1) at least two women, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a man or men. Some versions of the test go a little further and ask that it’s two women with names, or two major female cast members. Notice that the test doesn’t say anything about whether the movie is any good, or what the women talk about outside of men, or how the movie portrays women. It’s only an indicator of the female presence in a movie. A badly done, boring movie that portrays women very negatively could still pass the test. A timeless classic with a great female character could still fail. All the test asks is whether the movie has enough female presence to let two women talk to each other about something other than men, at least once. It seems like a pretty low hurdle to jump, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t lots of movies pass?

Well, it turns out that lots of Hollywood movies fail the test – not just war movies, but also movies like Bambi, Shrek, Ghostbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings (all three movies) and Toy Story.

How many movies should pass or fail the test? The answer is in the comparison. Flip the genders, and look at whether a movie includes 1) two men, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a woman or women. If movies pass at about the same rate for both genders, the movie industry would seem evenhanded. If not, movies are overrepresenting one gender and underrepresenting the other.

Guess what. A lot more movies pass the “two men” test than the “two women” test. Try it yourself. Pick ten movies you’ve seen, or the next ten movies you watch, or pick from one of the AFI top American movie lists. Ask yourself which ones pass the male version of the two-character test and which ones pass the female version.

You’ll probably find a lot more male presence than female presence.

How about basing the test on race or some other ethnic group? You might consider a test like 1) two characters of a given race, 2) who talk to each other at least once, 3) about something other than a member of another race or race relations in general. Few movies pass … unless you’re talking about whites.

What would be fair for black representation vs. white representation? According to the 2010 US Census, the US is 72.4% white (“white alone”) and about 12.6% black (“black or African-American alone”). That’s about a 5.7 to 1 difference. In other words, if movies that pass a “two whites” test outnumber movies that pass a “two blacks” test by about 5 or 6 to 1, the movie biz represents blacks and whites fairly (in proportion to the overall population). If the results are very different from that, moviedom is lopsided.

Take the AFI Top 10 American Sports Movies, for example: Raging Bull, Rocky, The Pride of the Yankees, Hoosiers, Bull Durham, The Hustler, Caddyshack, Breaking Away, National Velvet, and Jerry Maguire. It seems to me that all ten pass a two whites test. Therefore, a result of two for the two blacks test would be the evenhanded result. As near as I can tell, 0 out of 10 pass. Lopsided.

What it comes down to is that mainstream movies are largely about white men, plus some others who interact with white men. Liberal, left-leaning Hollywood can still be very stodgy and old-school. Some would claim that movies just reflect what the public wants to see, but to me that’s like the excuse that “all the other kids were doing it,” as if that gets you off the hook for being unfair to someone.

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Invisible afflictions

A Facebook status that sometimes makes the rounds tries to make people aware of invisible afflictions.

Here’s my invisible challenge: My hearing is mostly gone in my right ear, as of a couple of years ago. My right ear also has a constant, maddening 24×7 hum.

Most of the time, my hearing friends and colleagues wouldn’t notice the difference. My left ear hears just fine (“for someone your age,” as one specialist put it). As long as my left ear can hear you, all is well.


If you’re speaking quietly on my right side, I probably won’t hear you.

If you’re speaking normally on my right side, but there’s noise to my left, I might not hear you. You might not even notice the other noise, tuning it out automatically. For me, even a smallish noise to the left can start canceling out what you’re saying on my right. Have you ever been on a conference call, calling into a room where people were gathered around a speakerphone? It’s like that. If someone shuffles papers near the speakerphone, people in the room barely notice, but you have trouble hearing whoever’s talking because those little noises drown out the rest.

One weird effect of unilateral hearing loss is that all sounds come from one direction – my left side, the hearing side. In other words, I don’t know which way a sound is coming from, unless there’s some visual hint. In the car, when I hear a siren or a horn, I have to look all around because I don’t know where it is. If I hear someone say my name, I have to look all around if I don’t already know where you are.

If a cell phone or wireless handset rings and I don’t know where it is, I can’t follow the sound. I can experimentally move in a random direction to see if the next ring seems closer or farther, but that takes longer than instantly knowing which way to look.

Stereo and surround sound don’t do me any good.

Noisy rooms are very challenging. With all sounds coming from one direction, a noisy room becomes a large, undifferentiated cacophony of sound. I have a terrible time trying to focus on any one person talking, and I might have to lean my left ear closer to the speaker’s face. I become desperate to get to a quiet space.

Here’s another weird thing. If you talk to me when I can’t see you, I might not realize you’re talking to me. Apparently, normal bilateral hearing helps one come to that realization quickly. Without it, I keep failing to realize that someone is talking to me. I hear the sounds of someone talking, but it doesn’t sink in that it’s aimed at me. While that could happen to anyone with normal hearing, I find it happens to me a lot more often since my hearing loss. It takes longer for me to realize that the words are intended for me; in effect, I’m ignoring you, but it’s unintentional. People wind up looking at me funny, wondering why I didn’t respond sooner or why I don’t know what they were saying. Even though I try to be alert to this because I know it can happen, it keeps on happening. It’s a weird and frustrating effect. So here’s a tip: If I can’t see you, say my name to get my attention, or I might not realize you’re talking to me.

Sounds are sometimes harder for me to identify. For those of you with normal hearing, you know which way a sound came from; you look that way and see a likely candidate for making that sound, so you quickly figure out “That book fell over” or whatever. In my case, I don’t know which way to look, so there may be a lot more candidates that could have made the sound, which makes it harder to figure out which one it was.

Anyway, there’s one silver lining. If there’s noise while I’m trying to sleep, like heavy wind and rain, I sleep on my left side. My good ear is mashed into the pillow, and my right ear is pre-muffled. Personally, I’d rather just have normal hearing, but I’ll take the silver linings where I can.

I have no idea if this is going to get better or worse. The good news is that the doctors “ruled out some very bad stuff,” but the bad news is that we’ll just have to see how it goes over time.


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