Photo (cc) by TheSeafarer
A class-action lawsuit against social networking site LinkedIn takes issue with how the site collects email addresses, The New York Times says. The suit says, in part:
As a part of its effort to acquire new users, Linkedln sends multiple e-mails endorsing its products, services and brand to potential new users. In an effort to optimize the efficiency of this marketing strategy, Linkedln sends these ”endorsement e-mails” to the list of e-mail addresses obtained without its existing users’ express consent and, to further enhance the effectiveness of this particular marketing campaign, these endorsement e-mails contain the name and likeness of those existing users from whom Linkedln surreptitiously obtained the list of e-mail addresses.
“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,” LinkedIn said in a blog post. But it denied what the Times called the plaintiffs’ “most explosive claim” — that LinkedIn actually somehow breaks into email accounts and pretends to be the owner in order to collect email addresses.
“Quite simply, this is not true,” LinkedIn said.
But this dispute may be over a misunderstanding of the technology.
The Times explains how it works: When you sign up or try to add contacts, LinkedIn prompts you to import addresses from your email service. The process does require user consent in the form of clicking to allow access to the email account, but it doesn’t explicitly require the user to type in an email password if the user is already logged into the email account. (You may be logged in even if you closed the window with your email, unless you first clicked the button to log out.)
But regardless of what LinkedIn or the lawsuit says, what reportedly happens next is obnoxious. After your email account is connected, LinkedIn is then “able to download not just an ‘address book’ but any address ever sent or received,” GigaOm says.
And “instead of asking you to opt in by checking off which specific contacts you want to invite, LinkedIn requires you to opt out by unchecking the ‘elect all’ button,” the Times says.
Blindly clicking could launch a flurry of emails, including follow-up emails if the initial message is ignored. Users who talked to Bloomberg said LinkedIn contacted hundreds to thousands of people on their behalf, including people they no longer spoke to and ex-girlfriends.
In other words, LinkedIn’s default stance is that of course you want to contact everyone you’ve ever digitally encountered and bug them endlessly to join the service until they give in. The lawsuit may or may not be overstating the issue but, as the Times points out, “the legal process will sort out whether LinkedIn is getting adequate consent from its users.”
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