The professional networking site was sued by its customers in a California federal court for hacking into their email accounts.
In a complaint filed in a San Jose federal court this week, the users accuse LinkedIn of accessing their email so the company can mine out a list of contacts and send spam-like emails. The suit claims that “Linkedln is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external email accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”
“The hacking of the users’ email accounts and downloading of all email addresses associated with that user’s account is done without clearly notifying the user or obtaining his or her consent,” says the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose.
“LinkedIn uses this information to hack into the user’s external email account and extract email addresses,” the suit said. “If a LinkedIn user leaves an external email account open, LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the email addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn servers.”
A group of users asked a federal judge in San Jose, California, to bar the company from repeating the alleged violations and to force it to return any revenue stemming from its use of their identities to promote the site to non-members, according to a court filing.
“For years, people have been complaining about LinkedIn’s emails,” Larry Russ, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Huffington Post. “This lawsuit is squarely directed at the marketing practices causing the public outrage.”
The four plaintiffs in the case are Paul Perkins, a New York resident and former manager of international advertising sales for The New York Times; Ann Brandwein, a statistics professor at Baruch College in New York; Erin Eggers, a film producer and former vice-president of Morgan Creek Productions in LA; and Pennie Sempell, a lawyer and author in San Francisco.
It’s unclear exactly how LinkedIn would have sent the emails and the company has vigorously denied the claims.
“LinkedIn is committed to putting our members first, which includes being transparent about how we protect and utilise our members’ data,” a spokesperson said. “We believe that the legal claims in this lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously.”
LinkedIn claims to have the largest online professional network with more than 238 million members, including executives from every Fortune 500 company. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Weiner is quoted in the complaint as saying on a second-quarter earnings call, “This strong membership growth is due in large part to new growth optimization efforts.”
In a post today on the LinkedIn blog, Blake Lawit, the company’s senior director of litigation, said the allegation that LinkedIn breaks into the e-mail accounts of members who choose to upload their address books to the site is not true.
The company doesn’t access customers’ e-mail accounts without their permission, he said. Nor does LinkedIn “pretend” to be a customer to gain access to the user’s e-mail account, he said.
“We never send messages or invitations to join LinkedIn on your behalf to anyone unless you have given us permission to do so,” Lawit wrote.