After Ad Fiasco, LinkedIn Apologizes, Clarifies Stance on Privacy

 @ibtimes
on August 12 2011 12:40 PM

A minor backlash over ads on its site that used members' names and photos caused LinkedIn to do a 180 recently.

In late June, LinkedIn launched "social ads." The new platform was set up to help users know which of their connections recommended a certain product or company or could refer them for a job.  The service came with an opt-out policy ahead of the test run, and the company posted a banner on its main site, which explained the changes and how to opt out.

Despite those measures, and even though the service had been up for a while, LinkedIn recently responded to a flurry of complaints from users unhappy that their photos and names were being used to sell help advertising.  The noise came after Paul Ducklin from Sophos, a security research firm, posted a blog on the privacy policy changes.

Ducklin in his post said that like Facebook, LinkedIn tried to sneak in its opt-out policy under the radar. Reiterating his advice to Facebook, Ducklin said LinkedIn ought to do opt-in rather than opt-out. Opt-in vs. opt-out has been a major debate in the tech industry involving privacy.

In a blog post, LinkedIn's Ryan Rolansky responded to the complaints and reiterated the company's stance on privacy. He said the company tried to make its intensions clear with the privacy policy changes but granted it could have done a better job.

"We could have communicated our intentions -- to provide more value and relevancy to our members -- more clearly," Rolansky said. "Most importantly, what we've learned now, is that, even though our members are happy to have their actions, such as recommendations, be viewable by their network as a public action, some of those same members may not be comfortable with the use of their names and photos associated with those actions used in ads served to their network."

As a result of the complaints, LinkedIn has decided to drop the photos attached to the social ads. Rolansky said this move is to build trust with the community. He explained clearly how to opt out of any social ads and reiterated that the company does not share personal information with third-party advertisers.

Ducklin and others applauded LinkedIn's quick response to the situation. In a follow up blog, Ducklin said most companies never respond as quickly, and LinkedIn deserves credit.

But he added: "There is some bad news, however. There's still no sign that LinkedIn is willing to go down the opt-in path. The company still seems happy with opt-out, though I must admit that it has made opting out of social ads fairly straightforward." 

LinkedIn's stock was up 3.62 percent or $3.20 per share and seemed to be largely unaffected by the controversy.

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