Ever since the advent of the first friend request, online social networks have been plagued by a stubbornly immutable adage: If you build it, stalkers will come.
Internet companies constantly struggle to balance the privacy needs of their users with the out-in-the-open ethos that drives social media. The results are not always pretty, as Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) recently learned when its users demanded a crackdown on gender-based hate speech.
Now LinkedIn Corp. (NYSE:LNKD) is the latest Silicon Valley darling to find itself in the middle of a privacy dustup. A new petition on Change.org is calling on the social network to be more proactive in protecting LinkedIn users from stalkers. Launched by a user named Anna R., from Columbus, Ohio, the petition wants LinkedIn to add a simple blocking feature that would allow users to prevent other users from viewing their profiles.
Anna R. wrote that she launched the petition after she became the victim of aggressive stalking at the hands of an individual who sexually assaulted her at work, forcing her to leave her job. The stalking, Anna wrote, took the form of emails, phone calls and creepy activity across various social networks. But while Anna was able to block said stalker on Facebook and adequately adjust her Twitter settings to prevent further harassment, she said she hit a brick wall when attempting to do the same thing on LinkedIn.
“Having written to LinkedIn customer service about blocking a user, I was told I was only able to block a member if that member is prohibited from having a LinkedIn account by virtue of a court order. This is ludicrous and to the extreme. We know from other social media outlets how easy it is to enable this feature.”
A spokesperson for LinkedIn did not respond to a request for comment. According to the company’s Help Center, the website has no feature to prevent another user from viewing one’s profile. Instead, the company suggests various other options, including changing your profile display name or hiding the public version of your profile that is visible to people who aren’t signed in. However, those options do not appear to satisfy Anna R.
“[W]hy should we have to sacrifice our networking opportunities for something that is neither our fault or something we are powerless against?” she wrote.
LinkedIn, whose user base crossed the 200 million mark this year, is aimed mostly at professionals and job seekers. In comparison to other social networks, it’s decidedly civil, largely devoid of the rampant name-calling, comment wars and meme-fueled slacktivism found on Facebook and Twitter. But as the site has become a more integral part of online networking (and time-wasting) among Web-savvy professionals, users are finding that LinkedIn is by no means immune to the seedier side of social media.
In fact, scroll down on Anna R.’s petition, and you’ll find no shortage of comments from petition signatories who say they, too, are victims of LinkedIn stalking.
“I broke up with [a] guy a year ago, and he STILL looks at my LinkedIn profile every week to see what I'm doing. [It’s] creepy and very scary when someone is so obsessed with you,” wrote Tina Reine from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“I can block my ex-husband on Twitter and Facebook but not on LinkedIn,” added Jennie Macfie from Drumnadrochit in the UK. “I also had no success with asking them to include this feature and am delighted Anna's started the petition.”
Anna R. is seeking 10,000 signatures for her petition and has so far attracted more than 6,800. Five LinkedIn executives are named in the petition, including the company’s chief officer, Jeff Weiner.
Read the full petition here.