Judge says LinkedIn can't block startup from user’s public data

Judge says LinkedIn can't block startup from user’s public data
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A federal district court judge on Monday said that LinkedIn cannot block a startup company from accessing users' public profile data.

Judge Edward Chen in the northern district of California granted hiQ labs, an employment startup, a preliminary injunction that forces LinkedIn to remove any barriers keeping hiQ from accessing public profile information within 24 hours.  

HiQ’s operations depend on its ability to access public LinkedIn data. The company sells analytics to clients including eBay, Capital One and GoDaddy that aim to help them with employee retention and recruitment.

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LinkedIn contends that hiQ’s services threaten its users’ privacy. Even though their information is already public, LinkedIn argued that users might not want to have employers tracking changes on their profiles, for example if they are seeking a new job.

In his order, Chen argued that LinkedIn’s argument was flawed.

“LinkedIn has presented little evidence of users’ actual privacy expectation; out of its hundreds of millions of users, including 50 million using Do Not Broadcast, LinkedIn has only identified three individual complaints specifically raising concerns about data privacy related to third-party data collection,” the order reads.

HiQ argues that Linkedin’s attempts to limit the startup’s ability to use public profile data is anti-competitive and is a violation of so-called data-scrappers free speech rights.

“LinkedIn refers to itself as a ‘community’ and expressly holds itself out as a place ‘to meet, exchange ideas (and) learn,’ ” hiQ said in an earlier motion. “When a private property owner opens its property to the public, constitutional principles of free and open speech and access to information must be fully respected.”

The battle between the two employment companies has been playing out since LinkedIn sent hiQ a cease-and-desist letter in May accusing the startup of violating its terms of service by data scrapping. In June, hiQ launched a suit against LinkedIn to retain its ability to access data from public profiles.

Experts see the case as a legal test of the amount of control a social media company can have over the public data of its users.