LinkedIn Case Raises Employee Privacy Concerns

November 1, 2017

IT managers have long had the ability and right to monitor employee behavior on internal networks. Now, HR managers are getting similar capabilities thanks to cloud-based services -- but for tracking employee activity outside of their employer's network. A controversy is swelling over its potential impact on employee privacy.

A San Francisco-based startup, hiQ Labs Inc., offers products based on its analysis of publicly available LinkedIn data. One is Keeper, which identifies employees at risk of being recruited away, and another is Skill Mapper, which analyzes employee skills.

The profile data is collected by software bots. The clients of hiQ's service may learn whether a LinkedIn member is a flight risk thanks to an individual risk score: high (red), medium (yellow) or low (green), according to court papers.

Individuals can already look at publicly available social media profiles. That's not in dispute. But the use of bots takes employee monitoring to another level. LinkedIn is trying to stop it. The two sides are fighting in federal court, and the outcome may reshape how social media and HR operate and how they treat employee privacy.

The case raises some specific questions about employee privacy rights on social media networks, but it poses questions for HR managers as well.

There is an aspiration in HR tech "to start making things more actionable, to start going a level deeper in terms of intelligence," but the "big unknown is: Where does that data come from and who owns that data?" said Rami Essaid, CEO of Distil Networks, which makes bot defense tools.

LinkedIn said the scraping of members' personal data is being done "without their consent" and is in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the 1986 anti-hacking law, according to court records filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, where the employee monitoring case is being heard.

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