by Megan Geuss – Sept 22 2013, 4:25am +0300
Four plaintiffs filed a class-action suit in US district court in San Jose on Friday claiming that LinkedIn used its members’ identities without consent and broke into their third-party e-mail accounts to send promotional e-mails to the members’ contact lists. The 46-page complaint details many instances in which users complained to LinkedIn about this practice, especially in instances where LinkedIn sent e-mails to “the addresses of spouses, clients, opposing counsel, etc.”
LinkedIn, the plaintiffs claim, “provides no functional way to stop multiple subsequent advertising e-mails from being sent.” The plaintiffs say that the extent of the data-gathering was not adequately conveyed in the Terms of Service.
“If a LinkedIn user leaves an external e-mail account open,” the complaint continues, “LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to Linkedln’s servers. LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”
This “hacking” appears to stem from LinkedIn’s “Grow your network on LinkedIn” page encouraging users to click a button on the page, which allows the company to slurp up the contacts list of the third-party e-mail account with which the member signed up, if the member is logged into that e-mail account in the same browser. If the user is not logged into their third-party e-mail account, LinkedIn allegedly requests the password for that account “to ostensibly verify the identity of the user,” although the company then apparently uses the password to get access to the user’s contacts.
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial and want a federal judge to halt LinkedIn’s practice and pay its members for use of their identities in promoting the company. “LinkedIn’s scheme was initiated without obtaining the consent of or compensating Plaintiffs or Class members for their part in promoting LinkedIn’s products and services,” the complaint reads. “Plaintiffs and Class members each have a right of publicity under common law, which entitles them to be compensated for the use of their names, likenesses, and/or photographs.”
The plaintiffs did not specify the damages they sought, but noted that “At a minimum, LinkedIn places a value of ten dollars for each e-mail sent to a recipient containing an endorsement. LinkedIn charges its own members ten dollars ($10) per e-mail sent by its members to another member.”
LinkedIn gave a statement on Saturday to AllThingsD, Bloomberg, and the Los Angeles Times saying that it would fight the charges, which it believes are unfair. “LinkedIn is committed to putting our members first,” LinkedIn wrote, “which includes being transparent about how we protect and utilize our members’ data. We believe that the legal claims in this lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously.”