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Four LinkedIn users have initiated a privacy violation lawsuit claiming that the business professional networking website accessed their email accounts illegally to mine out contact details and send spam mails. The LinkedIn lawsuit filed in a San Jose federal court on September 17 alleges that Linkedln downloaded addresses from user email accounts without their express consent and sent "endorsement emails" to their friends mentioning the name and likeness of users.
First of such explosive claims against the 238-million user business social network, the LinkedIn lawsuit accuses the website of “breaking into” Gmail, Yahoo, and other user e-mail accounts without permission and sending endorsement emails from them, pretending to be the real user. Such practice of “hacking,” according to the complaint, is motivated by marketing practices to gain commercial benefits and extend its reach.
Spread over 46 pages, the detailed complaint highlights several instances where users made complaints to LinkedIn against sending unqualified and illegal endorsement messages to email accounts of clients, friends, spouses, forgotten girlfriends or boyfriends, business partners and even opposing counsels without their consent. The plaintiffs have also alleged that the social networking site’s Terms of Services did not have satisfactory details indicating such data-gathering and LinkedIn "provides no functional way to stop multiple subsequent advertising emails from being sent."
The LinkedIn lawsuit also highlights how the "grow your network on LinkedIn" page invites users to click an icon. This permits the networking site to get hold of the contact list on user email account registered with LinkedIn when the user logs into his email on the same browser. The social media site also sends password requests to those not logging into pretending to “verify the identity of the user." However, it is used to approach the user's contacts.
“If a LinkedIn user leaves an external email account open, LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the email addresses contained anywhere in that account to Linkedln's servers. LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external email accounts or obtaining users' consent,” the submitted document reads.
The LinkedIn lawsuit seeking representation of all users has demanded a federal trial and injunction to prevent the social networking site from continuing with such practices. It also wants LinkedIn to pay damages to users for exploiting their identities for its promotional activities.
"At a minimum, LinkedIn places a value of ten dollars for each email sent to a recipient containing an endorsement. LinkedIn charges its own members $10 per email sent by its members to another member. 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 in promoting LinkedIn's products and services,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs has also submitted a statement by Brian Guan, a software engineer at LinkedIn, who describes his duty as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money.”
Similar LinkedIn Lawsuits
Business networking site LinkedIn has remained largely secured from privacy violation lawsuits that are recurrent against Facebook, Twitter, and Google. However, the present lawsuit indicates the there is a thin border between social media and gray zones of privacy that each tempts to cross. The first instance of LinkedIn e-mail harvesting was highlighted in a privacy lawsuit filed by San Francisco resident Kevin Low in March 2011. He claimed that the networking site reveals the name of users to advertisers without consent. However, his demand for class action was set aside and the court dismissed the LinkedIn lawsuit, citing insufficient fact to support claim of harm and economic loss caused by such action.
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