We’ve all been there: somebody you knew like eight years ago joins LinkedIn, and the site asks you to go add them as a contact. You ignore the e-mail, because hey, you don’t even remember Bob that well, but LinkedIn doesn’t let it go. It asks you again and again to go add Bob to your network. And by the third message you might well be thinking, “Bob! Stop it! I never want to hear from you again! Go away!” Well, now Bob — and all the real, actual people just like him — can sue LinkedIn about that, a court has ruled.
Reuters reports that a federal judge in California ruled today that a lawsuit against LinkedIn has the green light to go forward. The plaintiffs in the suit complain that although they consented to allow LinkedIn to send an initial e-mail to their contacts, they did not agree to the follow-up messages. That LinkedIn accessed their contacts and sent the “reminder” messages without users permission is a violation of their privacy, the argument goes.
A U.S. District Court judge agreed, and said that customers may go forward with a lawsuit claiming that LinkedIn violated their right of publicity — in other words, that their names or likenesses were used for commercial purposes without their authorization, which is against California law.
The follow-up messages create the potential for harm, the judge wote, by making the people on behalf of whom the messages are theoretically sent look… well, like big, annoying jerks.
The e-mails “could injure users’ reputations by allowing contacts to think that 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,” she wrote in her decision.
She also added that LinkedIn may be actively misleading customers about the potential for being used as recruiting tools for the service. “By stating a mere three screens before the disclosure regarding the first invitation that ‘We will not … email anyone without your permission,’ LinkedIn may have actively led users astray,” she wrote.
The lawsuit hopes to gain class action status, and sues both for LinkedIn to quit their e-mail harvesting behavior, and also for cash damages.