LinkedIn Contacts & LinkedIn CRM & The Lawsuit
John Sumser is an HR consultant that you’ll meet at any HR conference worth going to. He is usually a speaker, and I’ve been following his newsletters for years.

In his blog post, The LinkedIn Lawsuit, he talks about the lawsuit I blogged about recently. At the very end of his post he has five points, starting with this:

1.How is it possible for both the user and LinkedIn to own the same bit of data. The language in the Terms of Service is a delightful contortion here. It says something like “you own your data as it regards you. LI owns your data as it regards everything else.

Folks, tell me, who owns the Contacts (LinkedIn’s CRM) data? Do you own it? It certainly “regards” you. But it sure as heck “regards” everything else.

Wait, that sounds stupid, doesn’t it? If YOU collect information about a person, whether you got it from a phone call, or an email, or face-to-face, and with permission (they say “here is my wife’s cell number, you can call me next week on that number”), and you put it into LinkedIn’s Contacts, WHO OWNS THAT DATA?

I bet LinkedIn will say they do. Of course you get to see it, as long as you can access your account, but I bet they’ll say it is data that regards someone else, and you are not entitled to export it, and you don’t own it. You have just given ownership of data you collected, for your own business or personal needs, to LinkedIn.

Ah, but we trust LinkedIn as a good steward of our data, right? Yes, we do. Just as we trust the NSA to not do anything unethical or bad with whatever the data is they are collecting on us.

Many years ago I was talking with an engineer at LinkedIn about having a one-click sync button between JibberJobber and LinkedIn. This would allow people to click a button and have all of their first degree contacts in JibberJobber, with whatever information we would get from them. For sure we would have name, email address, company name, title.

This engineer said there is NO WAY LinkedIn would do that. Why not? Because it would be a breach of privacy on behalf of their users.

I believe that he honestly thought this, and was not just giving me excuses. The logic, however, is grossly flawed. A breach of privacy? Are you kidding? All we wanted was to allow JibberJobber user to bring in contact information from people who had agreed to be their first degree contacts! This means they already had their email address (the invitation to connect process shares email addresses), and I bet in 99+% of cases they could easily get the other information (company, title, etc.).

A breach of privacy? More like “we don’t want to empower users to NOT have to use LinkedIn every time they want to network.”

Who owned the data in that case? LinkedIn’s message was that you are not entitled to any rights with your first degree contacts.

It’s a big facade, folks. If you are using LinkedIn’s CRM tools – putting in what I would call “meta data,” or data about your contacts, you are fooling yourself. Keep putting the work and data and intelligence in, but don’t be surprised when you find out that you don’t own any of it.

Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe they have a different set of policies for LinkedIn Contacts. But they haven’t earned my trust over the eight years that I’ve cared to pay attention to it to confidently say to my users “Yep, I totally trust LinkedIn will do the right thing for you.” Unfortunately, the actions and decisions of the last couple of years would make me more inclined to say “use it at your own risk, but one day they might make accessing your data in Contacts a premium feature,” just like all the other now-premium features they moved from the free side.

Trust them if you are a sucker. Otherwise, find another CRM tool to store this data in, especially if you want to “own” down the road.