LinkedIn’s Waging A Legal War Over Its Right To Sell Your Data To Your Boss

Most people only update their LinkedIn when they’re searching for work, but you might want to reconsider changing your profile next time you’re job-hunting.

American start-up HiQ Labs is currently in a legal battle with the social media site over their right to examine your profile’s activity and let your employers know if it looks like you’re thinking of jumping ship.

To bring you up to speed, LinkedIn sent a cease-and-desist in May this year. Then HiQ sued LinkedIn. And then – bear with me – LinkedIn claimed HiQ were violating American federal law by effectively hacking into their users’ digital property, citing the controversial Computer Abuse And Fraud Act, which written in 1984, pre-dates the  internet it applies to.

In August, the courts granted HiQ a preliminary injunction (and no damages) to continue operating, but LinkedIn are appealing to the High Courts, which will sit sometime in 2018. Now, HiQ’s crowd-funding campaign has reached it’s deadline for $100,000USD and it’s a solid $85,000 short of its target. It’s unclear what the next step will be.

Essentially, it’s a feedback loop of this.

Whatever happens, neither side’s coming out squeaky clean.

How exactly does HiQ work? The software bots trawls through the publicly available profiles of LinkedIn’s 500 million members to make a diagnostic of the company: their technical strengths, weaknesses  and the likelihood of people leaving, judging by their profile’s changes and new likes, follows and friends. The idea is that HR can cut off attrition before it happens and not risk losing team members to competitors. With considerable accuracy, HiQ’s ability to preemptively predict a user’s career movements has people calling it a breach of privacy.

And so the Black Mirror episode begins to write itself.

So in comes LinkedIn to protect the privacy of its users, right? Well, kind of.

While their cease-and-desist may cite the right to protect user’s data, LinkedIn’s own Talent Solutions and Recruiter products offers relatively similar access to analytics, though they’re not directly advertised as attrition preventers.  According to HiQ, they’re trying to illegally lock-out their competition.

Over at Bloomberg Businessweek, Drake Bennett does a bang up job of describing the crux of the problem in his fantastic long-read feature:

“Depending on whom you talk to, the sides are arguing about free speech or privacy, the scourge of data scraping or the danger of digital monopolies. The outcome will determine who gets to control the wealth of information about ourselves that, often unwittingly, we’ve put at the disposal of anyone with a professional curiosity and an internet connection.”

As Bennett notes, it’s hard to say what’ll happen in the High Court appeals case, which wouldn’t occur until next year at earliest.

What is clear is that more companies are mining our data and using it to create intimate and often pre-predictive profiles of us, even by using websites as saccharin as LinkedIn.

And with few alternatives for networking sites (which, unfortunately, in many industries is actually vital), LinkedIn are approaching a Facebook-like monopoly. Cool. Fun.

Meanwhile, as Bennet writes, “HiQ’s argument is effectively that we’re on our own, and that this is the price we pay for today’s internet.” 

Clearly, the legal debate isn’t over the right to monetise our data so much as see two companies fight over the data itself. I guess let’s just see which company wins, really. Or we take a leaf from Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie’s treasure trove film of 90s cybergoth culture, Hackers.

Source: Bloomberg Business

Image credit: Getty Images