If you’re like most of the 500 million LinkedIn users, you probably spend a few hours per week on the site reading articles, seeing what your professional pals are up to and, perhaps, networking for a new job.
Now imagine if a company that you’ve never heard of used automated bots to download your public profile (viewable via search engines such as Google), analyzed it to identify behavioral signals that you’re job shopping and warned your employer.
That’s exactly what a San Francisco-based startup called hiQ Labs can do with its software, which scrapes publicly available LinkedIn profiles to offer clients, according to its website, “a crystal ball that helps you determine skills gaps or turnover risks months ahead of time.”
Unsettling, isn’t it? Yet a judge decided on Aug. 14 that this was OK.
Judge Edward Chen of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco agreed with hiQ’s claim in a lawsuit that Microsoft-owned LinkedIn violated antitrust laws when it blocked the startup from accessing such data. He ordered LinkedIn to remove the barriers within 24 hours. LinkedIn filed paperwork to appeal.
The ruling is baffling and disturbing. It contradicts years of legislation and court decisions clamping down on web scraping—the often-harmful practice of using bots to extract data from websites, unbeknownst to the site operator. And it opens a Pandora’s box of questions about social media user privacy and the right of businesses to protect themselves from data hijacking.
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