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LinkedIn ordered to face customer e-mail contacts lawsuit

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-06-2014 Joel Rosenblatt

San Francisco: LinkedIn Corp. lost a bid to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the company trampled customers’ privacy rights for marketing purposes by accessing their external e-mail accounts and downloading their contacts’ addresses.

While US district judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California, agreed on Friday to throw out claims based on federal wiretap and stored communications claims, she said LinkedIn may have violated California’s common law right of publicity, which protects against the appropriation of someone’s name or likeness, without their consent, for commercial purposes.

Koh’s decision, which means LinkedIn customers can continue to pursue damages on behalf of thousands of other users, follows her earlier rulings in a Google Inc. privacy case involving e-mail users that were sharply critical of the search engine company’s policies.

The lawsuits against LinkedIn and Google, as well as one before Koh against Yahoo! Inc., have raised novel questions about how wiretap laws enacted before the Internet, apply to the companies’ use of troves of data generated when people send e-mails and surf online.

“Users of the world’s most popular professional-networking website consented to LinkedIn’s sending an endorsement e-mail to recruit their contacts to the site,” Koh said in her ruling. The judge said the company’s practice of then sending reminder messages to contacts who hadn’t responded was grounds for the lawsuit to go forward.

“LinkedIn’s sending repeated e-mails could impair reputations by allowing contacts to think the network member is unable to take the hint that they don’t want to join the website,” Koh said.

Personalized marketing

“This type of injury, using an individual’s name for personalized marketing purposes, is precisely the type of harm that California’s common law right of publicity is geared toward preventing,” Koh wrote.

Nothing in LinkedIn’s disclosures alerts users to the possibility that their contacts will receive not just one invitation, but three, she said.

The customers who sued, seek group status on behalf of other users. They are asking the court to bar Mountain View, California-based LinkedIn from repeating the alleged violations and to force it to return any revenue stemming from its use of their identities to promote the site to non-members, according to court filings.

A LinkedIn media representative didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the ruling.

External accounts

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.

The customers allege it was part of LinkedIn’s growth initiative to send multiple e-mails endorsing its products, services, and brand to potential new users.

Bloomberg

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