Facebook email brings new legal problems for employers when hiring, expert warns

Tech pundits may have welcomed Facebook’s new messaging service as a step forward for online communication, but one legal expert warns the service could potentially put employees and businesses in trouble if resumes are sent out with the new addresses.

The warning also comes as an online tech blog has warned its users to be aware of potential scams, through which people may pose as Facebook staff and convince unsuspecting users to hand over sensitive information.

As part of Facebook’s new messaging system, each user receives an @facebook.com email address, with the user’s profile name making up the first part of the URL. This means that if someone receives a message from a Facebook email account, they will be able to find that user’s profile very easily.

Legal expert Peter Vitale says this could become a problem is if prospective employees send out resumes to businesses using a Facebook.com email account.

“There really is a two-edged sword. You might see stuff on there that could lead to a decision not to employ someone and that decision could be unlawful,” he warns.

“For instance, it could be that on someone’s Facebook page they have messages and posts about their union activities. There might be circumstances there where an employer doesn’t hire that person, and there could be an argument there about whether that caused them to not consider that employee.”

Vitale says the issue highlights why Facebook users – and particularly those who opt to use their new Facebook email address – need to be careful about privacy setting.

“I think what this really demonstrates is the importance of privacy changes that have been made to Facebook. This really does reinforce those discussions about putting stuff up on a public forum,” he says.

“You may as well just put an ad up in the newspaper, you’re publishing it up to an unrestricted audience.”

Vitale’s warning comes after other legal experts have said employers should not investigate their prospective employees via Facebook, as this could have ramifications under the Privacy Act.

Industrial Relations experts have said information gathered on a social networking site may not have any relevance to the business at hand, or the job being applied for, and decisions made to employ or not employ someone may not be lawful as a result.

Vitale says users wanting to send out resumes with their new Facebook email address, especially younger users, must be careful about privacy and ensure all their information remains undisclosed to the public.

“This is almost like sending someone an email and then at the same time giving them all the access to everything in your inbox. It’s a bizarre concept when you think about it that way.”

“This really needs to be handled with care. If you’re going to send information from that email account, you need to be aware of what you’re putting up there and make it private, or at least put some types of privacy protection up.”

The warning also comes as online tech blog Gawker has warned users to be aware of @facebook.com scams. The new @facebook.com email domain available to all users was previously only available to Facebook staff, and the blog warns some users may try to some dirty tactics.

“So if you get an official but suspicious looking email from facebook.com, particularly one asking you to email sensitive information, sit on it; the social network’s real nerds are on the two-letter domain.”

Gawker warns that Facebook has moved its staff over to the @fb.com email domain.

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