LinkedIn lawsuit exposes amateur moves of 'professional' network

LinkedIn denies hacking users' email accounts, as claimed in class-action suit, but its current policies aren't above reproach

It isn't bad enough we have to fret over Anonymous, Chinese cyber spies, and the NSA sticking their noses into our personal business. Now we have to worry about LinkedIn.

Last week four LinkedIn users in Los Angeles filed suit against the business social network, claiming among other things that LinkedIn has violated wiretap and electronic communications laws, invaded users' privacy, and committed fraud.

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The complaint accuses LinkedIn of "breaking into its users' third-party email accounts, downloading email addresses that appear in the account, and then sending out multiple reminder emails ostensibly on behalf of the user advertising LinkedIn to non-members."

It also claims LinkedIn uses a new member's logon info to "hack into the user's external email account and extract email addresses" and that it uses names and photos of LinkedIn members in advertisements without their permission.

LinkedIn's public response? About what you'd expect -- in a company blog post, Senior Director of Litigation Blake Lawit writes:

The lawsuit alleges that we "break into" the email accounts of our members who choose to upload their email address books to LinkedIn. Quite simply, this is not true....

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. We will continue to do everything we can to make our communications about how to do this as clear as possible.

Trial by ire

Is LinkedIn guilty of hacking? Not as I understand the definition of that word. Users give their permission for LinkedIn to perform such acts, though claiming that LinkedIn makes this "as clear as possible" strains the definition of both "clear" and "possible."

Is LinkedIn guilty of spamming? That's much closer to the truth.

Here are the facts.

1. When you log in, LinkedIn is absolutely shameless about pestering you to upload personal contacts from Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL, and any other email domain you may have. This doesn't just happen the first time you join the network; it happens periodically every x number of times you log in. I can't tell you the number of times I've politely declined, but it's probably in the hundreds. Yet the requests keep coming.

Dear LinkedIn: No really does mean no.

2. If you do finally give in and say yes or just aren't paying very close attention, LinkedIn will ask if you want to connect with contacts who are on LinkedIn but not in your network, and to invite contacts who aren't yet on LinkedIn to join the service. LinkedIn oh-so-helpfully preselects all of the names on the list. If you're in a hurry and click "Add to Network," you've just spammed all your contacts. You have to de-select the names and/or skip this step to avoid it.

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