Wednesday 29 July 2009

Bozeman leading a new trend?

You may recall my post about the government of Bozeman, Montana demanding job applicants hand over their usernames and passwords for all websites they use (including Facebook).

This appears to be a similar case, in which a school has asked students to hand over their Facebook credentials. Apparently a number of students went on their phones and deleted their accounts, but one particular student did provide the school with her login information and they discovered she had been discussing the cheerleading squad's policies.

"The student was allegedly forced to sit out of various school activities and had difficulties arranging her academic schedule to avoid taking classes from any of the individuals who were both coaches and teachers. Her parents claim that attempts to discuss the problem with school administrators brought them no relief."

Once again, providing your login credentials is against Facebook's Terms of Service: "You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

There are people who think this sudden need to demand people's credentials is due to a lack of understanding of websites such as Facebook. For example, Bozeman's attorney did not appear to have considered creating an account for Bozeman in order to view people's profiles when this was suggested in an interview.

I personally hope that if the facts are as Ars reported (i.e. the school demanded students' credentials and actually logged in to their accounts to snoop on them) the district is forced to pay out. This erosion of privacy facilitated by websites such as Facebook cannot continue. It may be that this school and Bozeman are exceptions, but if more situations like this arise then the websites will have to do something about it. All the terms of service say is "If you violate the letter or spirit of this Statement, or otherwise create possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you. We will generally try to notify you, but have no obligation to do so." This would not help in cases similar to Bozeman, or the Mississippi school.

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