LinkedIn's Been Told it Can't Stop Third Parties Harvesting Public User Data

By Tom Pritchard on at

I make no secret of my disdain for LinkedIn, but now there's one more reason why you might not want to keep your account. Or at least make everything private. A US court just told the Microsoft-owned social network that it can't stop third-parties exploiting its huge trove of data.

A San Francisco Judge ruled that LinkedIn must remove any technical limitations it has put in place to prevent the 'scraping' of public member data. it's a story that began in May when the network sent HiQ Labs a cease and desist, demanding that it stop pulling data from public profiles - something that HiQ's website says took place every two weeks.

The firm doesn't monitor all users, just those working for companies that take advantage of its services. The services in question are self-described as "a crystal ball that helps you determine skills gaps or turnover risks months ahead of time, and a platform that shows you how and where to focus your efforts".

LinkedIn claims that using user data in this way, specifically to predict when staff are thinking of leaving their job, isn't acceptable. It claims that doing this breaches its terms of service, and potentially fall foul of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). HiQ, on the other hand, has dismissed these claims of abuse, declaring that profile information that is publicly available and viewable without logging in should not be "walled off".

Speaking to the BBC via email:

"It is important to understand that HiQ doesn’t analyse private sections of LinkedIn. We only review public profile information. We don’t republish or sell the data we collect. We only use it as the basis for the valuable analysis we provide to employers.

Moreover, LinkedIn doesn’t own the data contained in member profiles. It is information the members themselves have decided to display publicly, and it is available to anyone with access to a web browser."

LinkedIn has promised to appeal the decision, promising to fight for members' right to control how their information is used. If you're concerned about your data being used in ways you didn't initially anticipate, the first thing to do is make sure it's not all public. Or delete your account. [BBC News]

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