Judge Tells LinkedIn It Cannot Stop Third Parties From Collecting Profile Data

LinkedIn must allow startup HiQ to collect data from public profiles in a case that tests how much control internet companies have over user data

Microsoft’s plans for its expensive LinkedIn acquisition have suffered a blow after a US federal judge ruled the professional social network could not stop a third-party company from accessing public profile data.

The case is seen as a test for how much control Internet companies and their users have over how their data is acquired and used.

San Francisco US district judge Edward Chen granted a preliminary injunction to hiQ Labs and ordered LinkedIn to remove any technology preventing the startup from accessing public profiles within 24 hours.

Barriers must be ‘removed’

“To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers,” Chen wrote in the order.

HiQ says it automatically acquires data from LinkedIn’s public profiles roughly every two weeks and uses the data to help predict the behaviour of employees, such as whether they might be looking for another job or planning to quit.

LinkedIn PeopleThe startup says it only analyses data publicly available to anyone with a web browser, not private profile data, and only monitors users employed by companies who buy its services.

LinkedIn had argued HiQ’s use of the data went against LinkedIn’s terms and conditions. It sent HiQ a cease-and-desist letter in May, to which HiQ responded with a lawsuit in June alleging LinkedIn was violating competition laws by shutting it out.

The Microsoft-owned social network acknowledged it provides users’ profile information to third parties, but said those companies, unlike HiQ, are bound by LinkedIn’s terms of service.

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Appeal on the way

The case reflects a dilemma for users who have chosen to make their profile information publicly accessible, but who may not want third parties acquiring it en masse and using it for their own ends.

LinkedIn said it was planning an appeal.

“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,” the company said in a statement. “This case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn.”

HiQ said the decision would help protect the ability of smaller companies to use publicly available data free from the “legal bullying” of larger competitors.

“HiQ believes that public data must remain public, and innovation on the internet should not be stifled by legal bullying or the anti-competitive hoarding of public data by a small group of powerful companies,” the company stated.

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