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In a 46-page complaint filed on Tuesday in a San Jose, Calif., federal court, four LinkedIn users seeking class-action status accused the company of impersonating them in order to obtain access to their email contacts.
"When users sign up for LinkedIn they are required to provide an external email address as their username and to set up a new password for their LinkedIn account," the complaint said. "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."
[ It's a good idea to refresh your LinkedIn profile once a month. Read more: LinkedIn Tips: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Profile. ]
The plaintiffs said that LinkedIn sends multiple emails endorsing its products, services and brand to potential new users whose email addresses LinkedIn "surreptitiously obtained" as part of its effort to acquire potential new users, according to the complaint. They also claimed that the professional social network sends additional emails to those email addresses when those users don't sign up for a LinkedIn account.
"Each of these reminder emails contains the LinkedIn member's name and likeness so as to appear that the LinkedIn member is endorsing LinkedIn," the complaint said. "These reminder emails are sent to the email addresses obtained from the member's external email account without notice or consent from the LinkedIn member."
The complaint also noted that users have complained to LinkedIn about its "unethical harvesting" of email addresses and repeated spamming, and have "suffered loss by reason of these violations, including […] the right of privacy and deprivation of the loss of value in their personally identifiable information." The plaintiffs are asking the court for damages and an order to prohibit LinkedIn from continuing its "wrongful and unlawful acts."
Blake Lawit, LinkedIn's senior director of litigation, responded to the charges over the weekend and said the allegations are not true. According to his post on the company's blog, LinkedIn does not access a user's email account without his or her permission; it does not deceive users in order to access their email accounts; and it doesn't send messages to join LinkedIn on members' behalf to anyone unless the member has given it permission to do so.
"We do give you the choice to share your email contacts so you can connect on LinkedIn with other professionals that you know and trust," he said. "We will continue to do everything we can to make our communications about how to do this as clear as possible."