LinkedIn’s inadequate response to privacy stupidity

LinkedIn has responded to criticism over their opting-in of everyone to their “social advertising” program with a self-serving blog post. I’m less than impressed.

I wrote two articles yesterday. For Crikey, Sorry too hard a word for LinkedIn over privacy faux pas, in which I describe LinkedIn’s response as bullshit. And for CSO Online, Five lessons from LinkedIn’s opt-out stupidity, which reminds people to keep an eye on social networking services for unannounced changes to the rules of engagement.

Paul Ducklin from security vendor Sophos gives them an easier time, praising them for a quick response. He’s nicer than I am.

In the cold, clear light of Saturday morning, what depresses me most about this whole episode is not that a supposedly-professional service would pull a trick like this and, when caught out, just smear PR bull over the top. It’s that they’ll probably get away with it, and imagine they handled it well.

Like Ducklin, many will doubtless see their quick response and the superficial changes to the appearance of the social adverts, and be pleased. Few will notice that they haven’t made any commitment to pro-actively notifying people of privacy changes nor any commitment to ceasing the unethical practice of automatically reducing people’s privacy settings and requiring them to opt out.

From LinkedIn’s point of view, the lesson is that they can opt people in, weather a PR storm for a few days, and survive. They’ll be encouraged to do it again.


I’m also unimpressed that my comment on their blog post didn’t pass moderation.

Here’s what I said:

I don’t seem to be able to find the word “sorry” anywhere here. An oversight?

What’s also missing here is a commitment to make any changes to people’s privacy settings contingent on them opting in rather than opting out. Not doing that makes a mockery of the “Putting Members First” in the headline.

Is a blog post really sufficient notice for such an important change to the terms of service? Since you seem capable of emailing members with your own promotional material, perhaps a direct, plain-language email explaining any changes to terms of service is more appropriate.

And by that, I don’t mean an email that says “it’s changed” and linking to a long legalistic document. Explain the changes in the email.

Navigating two levels down into your account settings is not “one click”, it’s three. Don’t fib.

[I later realised it’s five clicks. Three to navigate there as described, one for the checkbox, one for “OK”.]

“Members First”, you say. So act like you mean it, rather than just smearing some PR spin on top of what you’re doing to serve your own needs.

If you’re a LinkedIn user and want to opt out of all this, go to where your name is displayed on the top right of your LinkedIn screen and click on “Settings”. Click on “Account” at the bottom left of screen, then “Manage Social Advertising”.

[Disclosure: I receive a free LinkedIn Pro account as part of their media outreach program. I haven’t deleted it… yet.]