Class Action Suit Alleges LinkedIn Utilizes Illegal Marketing Practices


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Facebook has had its share of privacy concerns, and just within the last week, the FTC has begun yet another probe into the social network's privacy policy. But LinkedIn, the business version of Facebook, is rapidly gaining ground as the creepiest social network.

As David Veldt, a digital marketing consultant, says on his blog, "The primary reasons LinkedIn is the mustached, trench coat and wire frame glasses wearing mouth breather of the Internet are the 'People You May Know' and 'People Also Viewed' features. Even though I have no shared connections, school, company, or industry, LinkedIn is using the search and viewing history of other people to make assumptions on who I may know."

Veldt is not alone in feeling a bit violated by a lurking LinkedIn. A nationwide class-action lawsuit has just been filed regarding LinkedIn's "disturbing practice" of accessing users' third-party email accounts without consent.

The suit, filed in San Jose Federal Court in the Northern District of California, claims the service "harvests email addresses and sends multiple reminder emails, ostensibly on behalf of the user, advertising LinkedIn to non-members." Contrary to reassurances on LinkedIn's website that it will not send emails "without your permission," the filing claims LinkedIn promotes its service by downloading email addresses from members' external email accounts and repeatedly emailing the addresses requesting they join LinkedIn.

To enhanced the effectiveness of this particular marketing campaign, the suit states that the endorsement emails contain the name and likeness of the existing users from whom Linkedln "surreptitiously" obtained the list of email addresses.

"The law recognizes this type of repeated emailing – using members names, to advertise LinkedIn's service, without consent – is unacceptable," says Larry Russ, an attorney for the four plaintiffs named in the suit. "These advertising emails give the impression that the member is endorsing LinkedIn. Through this class action, LinkedIn's members can band together and compel LinkedIn's compliance with the law."

The plaintiffs allege LinkedIn's marketing practices violate California's Common Law Right of Publicity, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Stored Communications Act, California's Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act, California's Invasion of Privacy Act, and the California Consumer Remedies Act.

The filing is seeking to define the plaintiff class as any member registered with LinkedIn prior to May 15, 2013 "who had their names, photographs, likenesses, or identities associated with that account used in an endorsement email sent to third parties by Linkedln." LinkedIn did not immediately respond to MainStreet's request for comment, though our inquiry was forwarded to the "Trust and Safety Team."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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