You may have seen the recent Associated Press article about employers asking for job candidates’ Facebook usernames and passwords (if not, you can read it here). According to the article, employers are taking the process of vetting job applicants one step further than just checking out their online profiles and now may want to be able to look at candidates’ accounts from the inside.

Facebook responded to this article by posting a note explaining that the practice of sharing or soliciting profile passwords is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and that they do not think asking prospective employees to provide their passwords “is the right thing to do” (see the note here).

But isn’t the information on social networking sites fair game to employers? Not at all, according to many groups, including government officials and the ACLU, who have responded to the news of this practice with outrage. They say that using this information is a violation of applicants’ privacy and that asking for it during the application process may be coercive.

The use of social media to vet potential employees and others who may be associated with an organization has also taken additional forms. Even if employers do not ask applicants for their passwords, it has become fairly common for them to check out candidates’ public profiles during the evaluation process (check out the infographic for details). Additionally, college and job recruiters may use third-party agencies or ask applicants to “friend” them so that they can keep an eye on potential students’ and workers’ profiles (check out an article on the practice from October, 2011 here).

Before you panic, remember that you may not be asked for this information. In fact, a post on a US News and World Report blog says that it is very unlikely that you will be. Whether or not you are asked for information you feel is private during an interview, there are a few take away messages from this story. First, remember to protect your privacy. If you are uncomfortable about what you are being asked or feel like you are being violated or coerced, do something about it – do not count on someone else to look out for your privacy rights. And, second, be careful about what you show certain people. This does not mean that you have to constantly censor yourself or monitor your online presence, but you should know who can see what information and be comfortable with all of your online profiles’ privacy settings.