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Germany: Would-Be Employers Can't Do Social Network Checks

Ever feel that those shots of you doing a keg stand in a bikini might be hindering your career? German politicians say they have a solution: ban potential employers from looking at applicants' Facebook accounts.

A law that passed through the German cabinet Wednesday makes looking at any closed social network illegal, but looking at professional networking Web sites, like LinkedIn, or running a Google search on an applicant, would be OK.

The measure still needs to go through parliament.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters Wednesday that future employers shouldn't be looking at information they would only want to show to friends like "wild photos from their college time." It would also be illegal to try and "friend" a potential employee to find out personal details.

Social media expert Klemens Skibicki, a professor for marketing at Cologne Business School, thinks the measure would be incredibly difficult to enforce. Much of the information can be found by third party search engines such as 123people (http://www.123people.com/) and it would be difficult to determine if the employer was using a fake account or an IP address changer to access data.

"How does one prove that they were discriminated against like that?" Skibcki asked. "This law can't effectively stop anybody from searching social network information about applicants."

Christian Solmecke, a lawyer with the German Institute for Communication and Law on the Internet, thinks that individuals should control who has access to their social networks and that the government should not interfere, but that it can be difficult for people - especially teenagers - to understand how information they post on the internet could affect them in the future, as well as how to make that data private.

The measure also prohibits companies from videotaping employees in "personal" locations such as bathrooms, changing rooms and break rooms, reports Der Spiegel. Seems like that would be a given, but in 2008, a scandal emerged when discount retailer Lidl spied on workers in the bathroom and collected personal information about them.

Also off limits? Most monitoring of employees telephone calls and e-mail use, even during company time. If monitoring occurs, businesses must inform their employees.

The country, with a history of government monitoring that includes the Gestapo and Stasi, has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world.

The Facebook legislation comes as there is increasing controversy over Google Street View in Germany. The consumer ministry is expecting the number of citizens requesting to opt out - have their property blurred on Google Street view and expunged from Google servers - to rise above 200,000 as many people worry that having such data on the internet is a violation of their privacy..