LinkedIn Lawsuit: Mining Email Contact Lists

linkedin_lawsuitPrivacy Alert: LinkedIn is facing a lawsuit for using its users’ external contacts lists to send recruitment messages to potential new users. If you have a LinkedIn account, this could be happening to you.

LinkedIn Contact List Mining

When you sign up for a LinkedIn account, you must connect the account to an external email address. When you do so, you also give the company consent to access that email’s contacts list. This is how LinkedIn creates its People you may know function – people you may know are simply LinkedIn users who have registered accounts using an email address that also appears on your contacts list.

As LinkedIn states in its Privacy Policy:

We collect information when you sync non-LinkedIn content – like your email address book, mobile device contacts, or calendar – with your account. We use this information to improve your experience and allow you and your network to be better connected. You can remove your address book and any other synced information whenever you’d like.

The issue at hand, and the reason LinkedIn is facing a lawsuit is that they are also using their users’ external email accounts to send LinkedIn marketing emails to contacts who are not LinkedIn members.

To be clear, as much of the media surrounding this issue is not, LinkedIn is not hacking their users’ external email accounts – they are simply accessing information they have been given consent to access and using pre-existing members’ identities as LinkedIn endorsements.

So, for example, if you are not a LinkedIn member but your friend Bob is and you are on Bob’s email’s contacts list, you might receive an email from LinkedIn saying something to the effect of “Join Bob on LinkedIn.”

The problem, and the reason this lawsuit is moving forward, is that LinkedIn is somewhat aggressive in their email marketing frequency. If a non-member receives a recruitment email and they do not respond, they will subsequently receive multiple recruitment reminders – all to the effect of “Look what you’re missing out on. You should Join Bob.”

According to U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, these reminders may violate California’s right of publicity, “which protects against the appropriation of someone’s name or likeness, without their consent, for commercial purposes,” because “nothing in LinkedIn’s disclosures alerts users to the possibility that their contacts will receive not just one invitation, but three.”

Legitimate Concern or a Class Action Cash Cow?

Those pressing charges against LinkedIn want the company to stop what it is doing. They also want to be compensated for any profit LinkedIn may have earned through the use of their identities in LinkedIn endorsements. Of course, LinkedIn is innocent of all charges until proven guilty, and until that time the question remains:

Should a social network be allowed to extend its reach without its users’ explicit consent?

The answer has important implications that will undoubtedly affect the future of our Internet.

Have a Great (Malware-Free) Day!

  • Bruce Perry

    I would be glad to volunteer to be a lead plaintiff. They are quite abusive. And many false lies are presented to people saying such and such a person recommended them for some task or other. I even had an email from a former White House speechwriter I know who supposedly recommended me for doing copyediting. I blogged for a few years at this gentleman’s blog and although I am quite good at editing when I need to be, I am nowhere near qualified to be a copyeditor which is a highly specialized job that too many newspapers and other publications have done away with since news is expected to be put out so fast. So we get inferior journalism by people who are sometimes idiots. If I were to write for a newspaper today, I would want a copy editor.Although I am quite good as a writer [except when I am writing in certain modes of creative writing where one writes as fast as one can to pour out ideas and ignores spelling, and any attempt at good copy as the exercise is meant to get ones thoughts on paper as fast as possible and looks terrible but is meant to stir creative processes. I am sure some of our spies have seen those and thought they were the work of a drunk raving idiot. Which would be expected of those who are idiots about the craft of writing. During those freeform mind melts my writing is terrible but as as one of the best copyeditors in the business once told me, whe I pay attention, I am a very good speller. But I am eminently unqualified for the specialized job of copyediting.
    And I know that what LinkedIn claimed that my friend the former White House speech write who supposedly recommended me doing copyediting is an out and out lie and deceptive to employers as well. And employers are the ones who pay. They deserve better. And so do I. I don’t want to have people looking me up to do a job I cannot do. it would waste my time and theirs. And that is a disservice to the community Linkedin is supposed to serve.