LinkedIn to deploy user photos in third-party adsMembers must 'opt out' of having profile data used

11 August 2011

LinkedIn logo

LinkedIn, the professional social networking site, has updated its privacy policy to allow it to use its members’ profile information, such as their names and photos, in third-party advertising.

Paragraph 2K of its revised privacy policy states: ‘In order to deliver relevant and valuable ads to you and your network, LinkedIn may use your name and profile photo in connection with social advertising based on content shared on LinkedIn.

‘This advertising may include the fact that you have recommended or endorsed a product or service on LinkedIn, followed a company, joined Groups or conversations, established or added content to your profile, etc., and will only be displayed to your LinkedIn network.’

Potential privacy violation

This feature is switched on by default. Users who do not wish to see their names and photos appearing in these adverts must opt-out by visiting their account settings and disabling 'Manage Social Advertising'.

The change has caused uproar among LinkedIn users; many said they were inadequately notified of the changes. LinkedIn hit back at the criticism by saying it had informed its members of its plans on blog posts and banner adverts.

Dr Rob Reid, a Which?’s senior policy adviser, said: ‘The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) should seriously question whether blog posts and a banner ad combined with an automatic opt-in to the use of personal data for a purpose that it was not originally collected is consistent with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.

'Users should have been asked to opt-in to these changes and not have had to rely on the eagle eyes of bloggers to alert them to changes which could see their personal information endorsing products and services to their networks of friends and colleagues.

He added: 'Even then, I would seriously question what the consumer gets in return for the use of their information. If I appeared in a TV ad I would expect a healthy cheque for my troubles, what will I get for being the new face of [an endorsement]?

Related: Your rights: the Data Protection Act

Opt-in or Opt-out?

IT security firm Sophos said LinkedIn's update mirrors a growing trend among social networks to exploit users' information, by placing the onus on members to ‘opt-out’ of features, rather than ask them to ‘opt-in’.

‘Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of a social network introducing sensitive new policies without giving users the chance to say first whether they want to opt-in.

‘We're used to this from Facebook, and it's disappointing to see LinkedIn follow in their footsteps,' said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

‘This feature certainly wasn't available when many of LinkedIn's users first signed up for the service, and as the majority of people don't tend to check privacy settings after they've set up an account, many people won't even be aware that their image and name could be used in this fashion.

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