Linkedin sued by users claiming email abuse

A group of Linkedin users have claimed that the business social network company has used their email accounts to inappropriately collect email addresses of contacts and to send out email messages without their consent or knowledge. They have filed a lawsuit as a class action, and with their lawyers are inviting other Linkedin users who may have experienced the same alleged email abuses to join them in the suit.

Linkedin’s senior director of litigation, Blake Lawit, responded at the company blog in a post entitled Setting the Record Straight on False Accusations:

As you may have read recently, a class action lawsuit was filed against Linkedin last week. The lawsuit alleges that we “break into” the email accounts of our members who choose to upload their email address books to LinkedIn. Quite simply, this is not true, and with so much misinformation out there, we wanted to clear up a few things for our members.

  • We do not access your email account without your permission. Claims that we “hack” or “break into” members’ accounts are false.
  • We never deceive you by “pretending to be you” in order to access your email account.
  • We never send messages or invitations to join Linkedin on your behalf to anyone unless you have given us permission to do so.

We do give you the choice to share your email contacts, so you can connect on LinkedIn with other professionals that you know and trust. We will continue to do everything we can to make our communications about how to do this as clear as possible.

This response may turn out to be an attempt to hide behind the very general agreement by Linkedin users to allow Linkedin to undertake various activities on their behalf. But it seems that some of the specifics of what the tech is doing are being glossed over in this very lawyerly post.

Here’s a few of the more technical issues, as reported in the lawsuit:

When users sign up for LinkedIn they are required to provide an external email address as their username and to setup a new password for their Linkedin account. LinkedIn uses this information to hack into the user’s external email account and extract email addresses. If a LinkedIn user leaves an external email account open, LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the email addresses contained anywhere in that account to Linkedin’s servers. Linkedin is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external email accounts or obtaining users’ consent.

As a part of its effort to acquire new users, Linkedln sends multiple emails endorsing its products, services, and brand to potential new users. In an effort to optimize the efficiency ofthis marketing strategy, Linkedln sends these “endorsement emails” to the list of email addresses obtained without its existing users’ express consent and, to further enhance the effectiveness of this particular marketing campaign, these endorsement emails contain the name and likeness of those existing users from whom Linkedln surreptitiously obtained the list of email addresses.

These “endorsement emails” are sent to email addresses taken from Linkedln users’ external email accounts including the addresses of former spouses, clients, opposing counsel, etc. Linkedln reassures its users “[w]e will not email anyone without your permission.” (Linkedln Login Step 2, Yet, Linkedln, without consent, downloads and indefinitely stores email addresses gathered from its members’ third-party email accounts.

Not only does Linkedln send an initial email to the email addresses obtained from a user’s external email account, but Linkedln sends two additional emails to those email addresses when those users do not sign up for a LinkedIn account. Each of these reminder emails contains the Linkedln member’s name and likeness so as to appear that the Linkedln member is endorsing Linkedln. These reminder emails are sent to the email addresses obtained from the member’s external email account without notice or consent from the Linkedln member.

One apparent snag for Linkedin is the fact that users have to opt-out to stop the default mailing behavior of Linkedin, or otherwise it will send “endorsement” emails to as many of the user’s contacts as it has slurped up. Some users have claimed that emails have been sent when they ‘skip’ certain steps, which conceals the need to opt out.

The suit also mentions that a former engineer for Linkedin, Brian Guan described his work on Linkedin as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!” Java is a programming language and Groovy is a synonym for it.

My bet is that Linkedin will come out with a more detailed and thoughtful response to the technical issues of the claims, but that might take place in a courtroom and not in the public eye.





Reckoning with retransmission consent

Despite broadcasters’ trumpeting of the free-market principles they say are at work in retransmission negotiations, the current retransmission consent regime is truly a creature of Congress.

Why migrate applications to cloud computing platforms

The great migration has begun. Most enterprises face years of migration to get their applications to cloud-based platforms. There is a right, and a wrong way to accomplish this Herculean task. You need to create your strategy now, before things get too busy.

NFC: If it’s Not For Commerce, what is it for?

NFC is unlikely to ever become the default technology for mobile payments that many have envisioned. But its penetration in smartphones is growing substantially, and it should prove a useful tool for mobile marketing.

LinkedIn may be entering the work management market

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner, in an interview at TechCrunch last week, expanded on his ideas about the “professional graph” — the network linking you to professional colleagues, and colleagues of colleagues — and growing that over the next ten years into an “economic graph” which would connect every worker, every  job, and profiles of every company, organization, and university. And then, he said “LinkedIn would get out of the way” and let them do obvious things.

Some of the vision he is spinning seems to parallel the idea of open work that I’ve written about: the premise that any company, of whatever size, would be able to use online services to connect and communicate with others. With customers and clients, yes, but more broadly with all sorts of agents in its marketplace. With potential employees or freelancers, with existing or possible service firms, and with other organizations. Given the right sorts of services built into an open work platform, a participating company would be able to lower the friction involved in hiring, outsourcing and insourcing, distributing manufacturing, and a wide spectrum of other activities. This is perhaps the largest recapitulation of the placeform concept (marketplace + platform = placeform) I’ve been writing about this year (see Let a thousand placeforms connect us, even as we loosen our connections). LinkedIn is uniquely positioned to bring this vision forward.

However, the initial steps for LinkedIn might involve a push into an established and growing market, enterprise social networks, which I call work media. They come at this from a different angle, since LinkedIn is an open professional network, with over 3 million active company profiles, and hundreds of millions of user profiles. Contrast this with products like Yammer and Chatter, which support basically no open public profiles, but are in user at thousands of companies in a closed fashion (by closed in this case I mean there is no open access as there is in Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn). So LinkedIn would be backing into the enterprise with an extension to the open services that companies and individuals already use.

Weiner mentioned that LinkedIn is already using an in-house version of LinkedIn that allows his company to be more productive:

[…] at LinkedIn we’re building tools that will enable us to get more value from our own platform. And success, to the extent that we generate the right kind of engagement and the right kind of productivity enhancement, we would then be in the position by virtue of the platform to think about productizing that.

[note: the Techcrunch videos are bit screwy. To see this interview proceed here, find the Jeff Weiner backstage interview and click on “related.” The Jeff Weiner onstage interview mistakenly links to a Dick Costello talk.]

He was asked by Eric Elden of TechCrunch specifically about Yammer and Chatter, and he responded this way:

We’d want it to be specific and unique to what we offer today. I think you would see greater emphasis on professional identity, for example. But again, there’s no definitive plans to offer that as a product. What we’re trying to do is leverage LinkedIn and as employees get as much value from that.

I could imagine a scenario where LinkedIn might develop the in-house equivalent of today’s collaboration-oriented work media solutions — a la Yammer and Chatter — or leapfrog into a more cooperative alternative, based on their orientation to the open professional graph. This would include capabilities for companies to not only search for employees and on ramp them into jobs, but also the workforce management services that placeforms like oDesk, and cooperative tools that connect and coordinate our work activities, and provide a social communication layer.

If LinkedIn takes this step it could be as transformative to today’s enterprise software market as Amazon’s forays into books and cloud computing.


Boxing in Pandora

While Warner is the first major record label to sign such a broad royalty deal its arrangement with Clear Channel is already being looked to as a template for a broader detente between the record companies and broadcasters.But it may not be a template Pandora can follow.

Is higher education serving cloud computing?

Colleges need to understand the cloud, and bake its use into everything schools teach. Industries that demand cloud talent need to work more closely with higher education to make sure that the educational institutes understand their needs, and provide funding and experts to educate teachers and students.

Microsoft will succeed in mobile despite itself

Microsoft’s move to acquire Nokia has drawn criticism from some pundits who claim it’s time to abandon Windows Phone. But the mobile platform is slowly emerging as a threat to Android and iOS, and Microsoft has the will and the deep pockets to reclaim its lost relevance in the smartphone market.