LinkedIn Can’t Stop Data Mining of Profiles

Professional networking website LinkedIn cannot stop a data mining company from scraping LinkedIn’s public profiles for the personal information of the site’s 500 million users, a federal appeals court held Monday.

To give companies such as LinkedIn that kind of control over otherwise public data risks creation of “information monopolies,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

HiQ, a data analytics company, obtained a preliminary injunction in 2018 forbidding LinkedIn from denying hiQ access to publicly available LinkedIn member profiles.

The panel upheld the injunction Monday.

“We do not resolve the companies’ legal dispute definitively,” Berzon said for the panel. The court focused instead on whether hiQ raised serious questions on the merits as well as showing it would face irreparable harm if denied access.

The panel concluded that hiQ was entitled to an injunction based on likely irreparable harm “because the survival of its business was threatened.”

It also may be that LinkedIn’s California state claims are preempted by the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

Public Interest

Both sides claimed their positions were in the public interest. While the panel found significant publid interest on both sides it favored hiQ’s position.

“We agree with the district court that giving companies like LinkedIn free rein to decide on any basis, who can collect and use data – data that the companies do not own, that they otherwise make publicly available to viewers, and that the companies themselves collect and use – risks the possible creation of information monopolies that would disserve the public interest,” Berzon wrote.

LinkedIn Claims

LinkedIn was founded in 2002 to allow members to post resumes, job listings and build professional connections with other members. The company does not claim ownership of any of its users’ information.

At least 500 million people use LinkedIn. The company offers a privacy setting with a “Do Not Broadcast” option with respect to every change made on profiles.

The company also took steps to protect data from what it calls misuse or misappropriation and it restricts automated scraping, which involves extracting date from a website and copying it into a structured format to allow analysis or manipulation.

HiQ, founded in 2012, uses automated bots to scrape information from LinkedIn users on public pages, including names, job title, work history and skills. They use it with its own predictive analytics to sell to business clients such thing as Keeper, which purports to identify employees at risk of being recruited away.

The second took is Skill Mapper, which summarizes employees’ skills in the aggregate to help employers find skill gaps in their workforces.

In 2017, LinkedIn send hiQ a cease and desist letter to demand it stop copying profiles. HiQ responded that it was not violating CFAA or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco sided with hiQ and granted an injunction against LinkedIn and the company appealed.

The case will go back to Chen for resolution of the merits of the LinkedIn lawsuit.

Case: HiQ Labs v. LinkedIn, No. 17-16783

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