Email Invites From LinkedIn Criticized As Spam, Lawsuit Filed

Peter Suciu for – Your Universe Online

Chances are we’ve all gotten one of those emails that says, “I’d like to add you to my professional network” from a friend, colleague or perhaps even a total stranger. These emails from “professional network” LinkedIn have become prevalent; but instead of being a helpful way to build connections, some users have argued the tactics used have blurred the line of spam.

Some users have sued the company over its aggressive marketing practices, and Gigaom reported those users, who include publishing and movie executives, had filed a complaint last year that accused LinkedIn of “breaking into” Gmail accounts as a way to send out invitations to anyone they’d ever emailed!

The complaint is based on the LinkedIn feature that invites new users to “Connect with people you know” as well as to existing users to “See who you already know.” It makes matches based on users’ email address books and then emails the contacts with automated emails – and worse, it follows up twice!

US District Judge Lucy Koh ruled on Thursday that multiple emails risked harming individuals “rights of publicity” under California law. She further expressed how LinkedIn’s tactics were an unfair business practice, which “could injure users’ reputations by allowing contacts to think the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join their LinkedIn network.”

Koh further said customers may pursue claims that LinkedIn did, in fact, violate a user’s right of publicity, which protects them from unauthorized use of their name and likeness for commercial purposes.

She did dismiss other claims however, including one that claimed LinkedIn violated federal wiretap law – but said customers may file an amended lawsuit.

The current lawsuit against LinkedIn seeks class action status, a halt to the alleged improper email harvesting and marketing, and money damages.

LinkedIn, which has about 300 million users, did not respond for comment.

“I’m definitely glad to see that LinkedIn is being called on its increasingly egregious ‘spamvitations,'” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told redOrbit. “While I understand the need to pursue/capture additional revenue sources, doing so in ways that damage your reputation and brand seems delusional. I hope this wakes up the company’s management.”

LinkedIn, along with social networks including Facebook and Twitter, have already changed the way some people communicate. While it is easy enough to email or phone a colleague, these operations have activity-encouraged communication specifically through their services.

“At what point do usually incompatible, often warring social networking services become impediments to the interactions they actually claim to promote,” pondered King. “I think we’re past that already but aside from damaging company’s relationships with their customers, these activities also run contrary to unification/integration efforts we’ve long seen in other areas of communication.

“Long ago, service providers realized that they stood to gain more by working together than by tearing one another apart. It’s too bad social networking players have yet to experience a similar ‘ah-ha’ moment.”