Yet another illustration of why I profoundly distrust (and don’t use most) social media has just hit the news. Bloomberg reports:
LinkedIn Corp., owner of the world’s most popular professional-networking website, was sued by customers who claim the company appropriated their identities for marketing purposes by hacking into their external e-mail accounts and downloading contacts’ addresses.
. . .
LinkedIn required the members to provide an external e-mail address as their username on its site, then used the information to access their external e-mail accounts when they were left open, according to the complaint.
“LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn’s servers,” they said. “LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”
. . .
LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company’s website as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!” according to the complaint. Java is a programming language and computing platform released by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Groovy is a another language for the Java platform.
. . .
Jeffrey Barr of Livingston, New Jersey, said in an e-mail that he estimated LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts, inviting them to connect with him on the site.
“Some of the people I hadn’t talked to in five to 10 years, including several old girlfriends I had forgotten to delete,” he said.
LinkedIn told him he hadn’t unchecked a default setting allowing it to use the e-mails, he said.
According the complaint, it was part of LinkedIn’s growth initiative also to send multiple e-mails endorsing its products, services, and brand to potential new users, following up with additional messages to people who didn’t sign on.
The existing users have no way to stop the process, the plaintiffs said.
There’s more at the link. Important reading, albeit frustrating, irritating and possibly even enraging.
Social media and networking companies like LinkedIn (and Facebook, and Twitter, and Google+, and many others) will take advantage of you in any way they can. They’re not here to serve you – they’re here to make money out of you. You’re the product they sell, not a customer they value. If you don’t generate revenue for them, you’re of no value to them at all – so they’ll make sure you generate revenue for them, even if they have to appropriate your personal information and contacts to make that happen. (Look at the fuss generated by Facebook’s latest changes to its privacy policies to see what I mean.)
Use social media companies and their services at the imminent peril of your privacy. Personally, I value the latter more than I find the former useful.