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LinkedIn: the latest spam merchants?

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy February 19, 2014
Summary:
LinkedIn continues to send emails after your account has been deleted. Is this spam? What's going on? How can you stop it from happening.

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As LinkedIn opens its doors to anyone who chooses to publish there, reports are emerging that LinkedIn is playing a tad fast and loose with people's privacy, spamming them long after they have left the service. Allegedly.

Frank Köhntopp contacted me to grumble about privacy issues at which point I asked for the full story. He has published it on his own weblog. It doesn't make for pretty reading. As back story, Köhntopp closed his account with LinkedIn in October, 2013.

It seems (can someone verify this?) that these invitations originate from LinkedIn’s Outlook Plugin that some of my former contacts are using. That’s kinda wrong already, given that the EMail comes from LinkedIn, not from my contact (i.e. contacts tell LinkedIn to EMail me, which they do without my consent.). I don’t think that’s ok from a data privacy perspective.

Matthew Langham has the same problem. Jan Penninkhof goes further, complaining that:

They're very aggressive (evil?). I also see email addresses of my kids in my "need to invite" list. So they must have pulled my entire contact list somehow. Thinking of closing my account too, but then again: damage has already been done...

I have no problem with LinkedIn finding ways to increase its network power - that's part of the game - but like Frank:

Where I draw the line is the reminders: in order to do that LinkedIn has to a) store my data and b) keep emailing me without my consent. The email does contain an “unsubscribe” (…) link which implies I opted in to receiving the emails. Let’s see if that works.

It's hard to see how LinkedIn can justify the behavior even though the revised terms and conditions from last year make clear that the service takes to itself sweeping rights to your data:

“Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.”

I reckon it's the 'perpetual' and 'in any way' pieces of these terms that that give LinkedIn the get out they need in order to continue spamming former users. However,  Köhntopp has found one answer:

Today I also found a (well hidden) form to put yourself on LinkedIn’s “Do Not Contact List”. I did that – reluctantly – it’s ironic that I have to allow them to store my data in order to prevent them spamming me.

What I can assure Köhntopp is that a search for his name on LinkedIn reveals nothing. Cold comfort I suppose but at least that part of the equation holds up.

Perversely, LinkedIn members continue to be aggravated by SWAM, LinkedIn's efforts to reduce spam inside groups. There is a convoluted process to overcome being SWAM'd - especially irritating if you spend a lot of time in LinkedIn Groups.

Not the first time

This is not the first time that LinkedIn has been accused of doing bad things, like the Intro hack for iOS, something LinkedIn denied. At the time, Mike Schorah pointed out:

This week's launch of their Intro product is really, really clever. Andextremely dangerous for the corporate customers they're targeting. And most won't know about the difficulties until it's too late when there is a spectacular PR disaster for LinkedIn...

...And with the trend towards BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) it's entirely possible that many, many corporate workers will download and install the Intro software blissfully unaware that they could be inadvertently sharing privileged emails and attachments like spreadsheets with LinkedIn, or a malicious server that pretends to be LinkedIn.

Guess what - the Intro service is being shuttered on 7th March. Despite an explanation talking about 'concentration on fewer things' one has to wonder whether the many doubts about the service made it too uncomfortable for LinkedIn.

Verdict

LinkedIn has become one of the primary means by which I discover what colleagues are doing and where they're moving to. That's not always the case as I mentioned to one colleague who left Gartner a while back yet that's where LinkedIn seem to think he is still working.

Employment trends am0ng colleagues working at the same place quickly emerge. Some believe LinkedIn is the primary place for recruiters of all stripes to mine for talent.

The LinkedIn groups feature is very useful and provides what many to believe is a safe haven for confidential discussions on a broad range of topics.

I am less sure about the publishing feature. Could this be a way to tempt people away from their own weblogs? A way to add to the CV content we already see? Maybe.

But...if LinkedIn is failing its past users unless those same users are prepared to go through a lot of hoops then it devalues the service no end.

Featured image credit: © ducdao - Fotolia.com

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