I'm actually surprised this hasn't happened sooner. A number of organizations -- in this case, a state prison system and several colleges and universities -- are asking applicants for access to their Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) pages. For some, the willingness to do so is a condition for being accepted or hired.
In the US, a number of constitutional amendments are being applied to these situations, but I am not equipped to argue law. What I can say with relative certainty is that these cases will affect how individuals and businesses use social media. Whether it is positive or negative depends on your point of view.
The litmus test I use in using Facebook -- in addition to "Is this something you want your mother to read?" -- is how I am using it relative to other ways of communicating with friends, family, and colleagues. Before Facebook, it was the good old US Mail (or FedEx or UPS or DHL, which have options that ensure delivery and privacy). Everyone knows it is a felony to interfere with or open anybody's personal mail. Entire sitcom episodes have been built on this premise. You have a certain expectation of privacy. If I send a letter to my best friend complaining about something, the only way it would get out would be for my friend to tell someone else or for the mail to get diverted. There would be legal remedies for this, and, frankly, diverting mail is a real pain in the neck unless you really want to torpedo someone.
I see Facebook as being comparable to posting something in a public place, like one of those "post no bills" sites in Manhattan. If my complaint to my best friend circulates, I have nobody to blame but myself. End of story.
So why would I do such a thing? I wouldn't. And I hope a whole lot of sane people out there wouldn't, either. So I am going to continue to be very, very careful about what I tweet, post, share, update, and +1. I will limit my use of social media depending on my circle -- business acquaintances on one network, friends and family on another.
There is not going to be a free-for-all sharing of everything at any time and anywhere. This limits the intent of social media. Frankly, I think Facebook is going to come out swinging in response to requests like these. The ACLU already has, and they happen to violate Facebook's user agreement.
For all those businesses looking for ways to harness social media, I'd consider this a damper. Let's take a supply chain example. Say I'm a buyer at an OEM, and I realize that I dropped the ball by failing to order a component for a kit that is going to ship to the factory floor any minute. I could pick up the phone and plead for mercy from my management or suppliers. I could tweet some individuals I know in the industry. I could change my status on Facebook to "help!" I could send out some carefully worded emails or a few RFQs. What is the quickest way to reach the most people? Facebook. But do I want to admit for all to see that I messed up and am trying to circumvent my company's AVL? I don't think so.
Suppose one of my acquaintances retweeted my tweet to somebody with those parts. Now suppose that somebody worked for my closest competitor, whose CEO was in the same Rotary Club as my CEO. Don't laugh -- I have experienced a similar situation, and it was really, really ugly.
From a positive standpoint, this practice implies that prospective employers could uncover all kinds of nasty things about their applicants. As a parent and a taxpayer, I support this to some extent. As an individual, I don't. As a business… well, how many times have you forwarded an email that says "This is a private correspondence between sender and recipient"?
The cloud and any number of data-sharing technologies are constantly being tested for security and privacy. There are technologies out there that can guarantee the safety of data transfer to a great extent. But until there is an app for "stupid," I am going to keep my business, and my company's business, to myself. Will I share my Facebook password? As long as I have no reason not to, the answer is yes.