LinkedIn is an excellent resource for working professionals as an online professional networking site. A living resume online, the social media forum is a living portfolio of your collective work history, and performs as not only a curriculum vitae, but a reputation management tool as colleagues can review and recommend your work.
Another function of LinkedIn is to extract data from profiles created for the purposes of tailoring the user experience for each member. This personalization helps connect the right people, provide qualified leads, and help advertisers reach people who could have real interest in their product.
Recently however LinkedIn’s position on utilizing profile data was challenged as a class action lawsuit charges that LinkedIn violated federal law by sharing the aforementioned profile data without user consent.
According to the lawsuit, not only does LinkedIn utilize user information for its own marketing and personalization purposes, but it also allows companies looking to hire to obtain reports regarding other site users without their consent. This type of search is called a “reference search,” and is only available to premium LinkedIn account holders who are required to pay a monthly fee. These premium members are employers and recruiters who can use the search to generate a detailed list of potential candidates. For example, the user could provide a query within its own network, for who worked at the same company, and at the same time as the job candidate. This function also allows premium members to utilize the site’s messaging system to contact people who appear on those lists – all without notifying a job candidate.
The suit alleges that the reference search is a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) providing that LinkedIn has failed to comply with disclosure requirements like credit reporting agencies. Even further, the suit argues that LinkedIn has failed to ensure accuracy of consumer report information. To remedy the charged wrongs LinkedIn has done, the lawsuit is seeks statutory damages of $1,000 for each violation on behalf of a portion of all LinkedIn users who didn’t become employed because a reference report had been run on them through the reference search function. The amount is set at $1,000 as this is arguably the amount to the salary lost by not getting a job.
Advocates for LinkedIn argue that LinkedIn is perfectly in line. Forbes writer Susan Adams argues that these practices for comparing references are as old as job searches, and just because it can now be done digitally, the company performing the service should not be charged. “Pre-Web,” she argues, “conscientious employers did the same kind of reference checking that they’re now doing using Reference Check. They just did it the old-fashioned shoe leather way. If I had worked at, say, Time magazine three years ago and The Wall Street Journal were interested in hiring me, the hiring editor would likely ask around and find a couple of Time people who knew me and were willing to speak candidly about me.”
Representatives of LinkedIn have responded saying, “We take member privacy very seriously. We believe that the legal claims in the recently-filed lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously..A reference search, which is only available to premium account holders, simply lets a searcher locate people in their network who have worked at the same company during the same time period as a member they would like to learn more about. A reference search does not reveal any of that member’s non-public information.”
- November Security Newsletter
- Forbes Article