More and more people are joining social networks on a daily basis and employers believe these networks are a source of information about their employees. In this post I'll share some thoughts I have about ways employees may be able to protect their privacy and the private information they post online and in social media.
Facebook alone reports having over a billion active users half of which access their page at least daily. I've written before and you've no doubt been told not to post negative comments about your boss or your co-workers, personal information or photographs, especially when you are accessing your social media sites from your employer's computers.
In spite of these warnings, we continue to post information we shouldn't, with unreasonable expectations of privacy and our employers have gained access to this information and used it against us.
Now, it goes without saying, if you provide your email, Facebook or LinkedIn password to your employer, you should not expect to retain any right to privacy to any of those accounts, period. The more interesting question is what happens when your employer intercepts your private communications sent from company computers. This can be accomplished many different ways and we've seen employers use the information in many different ways. Under these circumstances employees should know they do have some protections.
One of those protections is the ECPA. Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in 1986 and provided employees a private right of action against their employer for the knowing or intentional unauthorized access to social media sites or personal email accounts. We've also learned from caselaw that employers can't force employees to grant them access to private employee-only chat rooms/groups or boards. Many employees have been lead to believe that if the employer owns the equipment, the employer may access personal email and social media sites accessed from that equipment. This is not the case. Here too employees have a certain right to privacy.
In the past few years we've seen cases where employers have accessed information and used it against employees. In most of these cases the employers have been found to be in the wrong. In most cases the laws favor the employee. In every case, it would be wise for the employee to use some common sense. At least one court has ruled that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy for information publicly posted on a social media site. This seems to make sense. Remember most of these sites also have privacy settings that allow you to determine who can see what you post. Think about paying closer attention to these settings and taking advantage of them if you insist on posting things you shouldn't.
Yes, there are laws that protect your right to privacy, but how can you expect a Facebook post about your idiot uncaring boss to be private? The best advice is still "Think before you post." Even though you may have some protections under the law, why take chances? Good jobs are hard to come by. No one wants to hire a trouble maker. Be smart. Use some common sense. Use some restraint. Be social not stupid.