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Is LinkedIn an Ethical Company?

In case you missed the announcement a couple of months ago, LinkedIn has agreed to settle a 2013 class-action lawsuit that challenged its use of an aggressive email service to grow its membership ranks. The reported settlement amount is $13 million. Called “Add Connections,” the service involved sending repeated emailed solicitations to its members’ contacts without appropriate permission.

How do you know if you can collect your piece of the $13 million? Business Insider reports “If you just got a long email about LinkedIn and a class-action legal settlement, yes, it’s real, and yes, you could be eligible to get a chunk of the $13 million that the professional social network is paying to settle the lawsuit.”

The total amount will be distributed to LinkedIn members “pro rata” — meaning that the amount each person is paid depends on the total number of people who file claims. So chances are you won’t become wealthy off this. However, if each person who files winds up with less than $10, LinkedIn is required to raise the total amount by an additional $750,000.

The class action lawsuit was filed  in U.S. District Court in Northern California, claiming LinkedIn violated customer privacy  by obtaining addresses from the external email accounts of its members. LinkedIn then used those addresses to send repeated emails on those members’ behalf urging their contacts to join the social network, the suit states.

According to a Reuters report, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said that while customers did initially agree to have an email sent to their connections on their behalf, they do not agree to two subsequent emails after the initial one is ignored.

In the complaint, LinkedIn members say repeated emails amounted to spamming. Some LinkedIn members claim these repeated messages on their behalf have tarnished their reputations. In fact, on the LinkedIn community support forums, many users have logged complaints about the social network’s so-called “spamming” of member email contact lists.

Add Connections prompts users to import their email contacts and automatically invites the contacts to connect on LinkedIn. If an invitation is not accepted within a certain period of time, LinkedIn sends up to two reminder emails to alert the recipient that an invitation is waiting.

The court found that LinkedIn members consented to the company using their contacts and sending invitations to connect. However, members did not consent to LinkedIn sending reminders, the court found.

LinkedIn agreed to give members through the end of 2015 to prevent the sending of reminders by cancelling the connection invitation.

Is LinkedIn an ethical company? Notwithstanding its “Add Connections” lawsuit, LinkedIn also sends a mixed message by prompting users to upload their Outlook contacts and send invitations to all of them. Uncertain newbies and extreme extroverts will do that. Other people will be more selective. Many will send invitations to family and friends who may be close, but can’t directly address their professional qualifications. That strategy may seem inappropriate, but those are the people you really want to help. In the pre-digital era, those people comprised your core network, and they still do.

The Center for Digital Ethics & Policy points out that acquaintances that send invitations often create an ethical dilemma for the recipient. Accepting invitations from people you know and can comfortably recommend or rejecting invitations from strangers is easy. The problem is deciding whether to ignore or reject invitations from people you barely know, but are likely to see again. They could be neighbors, members of your religious community, members of an enthusiast organization, or people you’ve met in a job-search group.

You can use no screening process and accept everyone who asks. That may seem risk-free and will increase your number of connections. The risk occurs when your acquaintance connection wants an introduction to one of your valuable connections.

The world of LinkedIn users grows bigger by the day. It seems we all want to be connected and somehow think since it is a “professionals” site; that there will be some benefits along the way. I have my doubts as its original purpose has been masked by the never ending requests I receive from contacts of other LinkedIn users that I may be connected with. For me it’s become a distraction that takes time away from my going to my Facebook page and reading postings by people I don’t know, who I somehow befriended, about some personal activity like going to the bakery to pick up a cake for mom.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 3, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: