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Is LinkedIn using your personal image and email contacts?

Thursday, 2 October 2014 | By Vanessa Emilio

If you are a LinkedIn member and have signed up with a profile, then the answer is likely yes! LinkedIn is using your details and may be using your image for its marketing campaigns.


Are they allowed to do this?


There is an ongoing debate and lawsuit in the US which started in September 2013 against LinkedIn. The latest claim in this lawsuit suggests statutory damages of $US750 ($A857) per LinkedIn user. With users in the hundreds of millions, this could be drastic.


The lawsuit claims LinkedIn uses member email addresses acquired from a member’s personal contact list to send spam invites to join the LinkedIn site. If you are a member, it is essentially using your private contacts, information and images for its advertising.


It is using images and information that is part of the LinkedIn user’s profile to make the emails appear to have been sent from the members themselves, rather than LinkedIn.


The legal argument is that this breaches a number of pieces of US legislation including the Communications Act, SPAM Act, First Amendment, and privacy law among others.


LinkedIn is arguing this is customary practice and standard online networking, and that their user members consent to permit access to their email contacts and address book when they sign up for the service. It is therefore not illegal nor a breach of any legislation.


What LinkedIn members are saying


One of the main complaints is that members don’t want to be seen to be spamming their friends and new contacts. This is particularly true for business owners who may have been to a professional conference and met new business contacts. It is not good business practice to be seen to be immediately ‘harassing’ new business contacts with emails requesting them to join social media networks.


Others find it offensive that their images are used without their permission on LinkedIn advertisements and materials without consultation. These are just a few of the practices that LinkedIn has employed as part of its media campaigns.


What LinkedIn’s terms say


If you have ever read LinkedIn’s terms, clause 2.2 states:

“Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.” 


In other words, you have given them the right to use any of your information, at any time, for anything they wish to use it for, now or at any point in the future, including the ability to sell your information.


Further buried in their Privacy Policy, in section 1.4, it states that on signing up, your personal address book may be synced with their service. It implies that you have an option to upload individual contacts or your entire address book, but anyone using LinkedIn will have experienced that some services are not available unless you agree to provide access to your address book, even if it is not required for the service.


What Australia says


LinkedIn claims to be the world’s largest professional network with more than 240 million members worldwide, as at October 2013, and more than 4 million users in Australia.


There seem to be mixed views on the benefits versus the drawbacks of setting up and using the LinkedIn social media channel. Much of the difference of opinion seems to depend on the business activity and how the member uses LinkedIn. Some users describe LinkedIn as ‘a great professional channel’ while other users feel ‘hacked’ when their personal address contacts receive email invites that are not from the user.


There are varying legal commentaries on this issue but for the moment it seems to be a ‘wait and see’ for the US court outcome before any action may be taken in Australia.