LinkedIn, loses appeal for access to user profiles

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of August 2017 requiring LinkedIn, a Microsoft Corp entity with more than 645 million members, to grant hiQ Labs Inc. access in publicly available member profiles.

A 3-0 ruling by the San Francisco Court of Appeals backs Silicon Valley’s battle against “writing data,” or extracting information from social media accounts or websites, which critics say could be equated with theft or violate user privacy.

A federal appeals court on Monday rejected LinkedIn’s attempt to ban a San Francisco company from using information that users of the network’s professional website have judged public.

District Judge Marsha Berzon said hiQ, which makes software to help employers determine whether employees will stay or be fired, told them she faced irreparable harm in the absence of an order because she could leave the business without access.

It also said giving companies such as LinkedIn “free” who could access endangered public user data by creating “information monopolies” that harm the public interest.

“LinkedIn has no protected property interest in the data contributed by its users, as users retain ownership of their profiles,” Berzon wrote. “And in terms of publicly available profiles, users are clearly aiming for them to be reached by others,” including prospective employers.

In a statement, LinkedIn said it was disappointed with the decision and evaluation of its options, and will “fight to protect our members and the information they trust” about it.

Advocates for hiQ did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The matter was returned to U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco, who issued the order.

Craigslist, the classified advertising website, had backed LinkedIn’s complaint, warning that the order could have a “dangerous impact” making it easier for “bad actors” to find targets for email, text or phone based marketing.

Berzon said, however, hiQ had raised serious questions about LinkedIn’s behavior, including whether it could invoke a federal law aimed at computer fraud and abuse to block “free riders” from accessing user data.

She wrote that “Of course, LinkedIn can satisfy its concern for the ‘free rider’ by eliminating the public access option, albeit at a cost to many users’ preferences and, perhaps, to its bottom line.”

Gregory Garre, a former U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush representing kraigslist, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Donald Verrilli, an attorney general under President Barack Obama, represented LinkedIn. Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe was one of the hiQ advocates.

The case is hiQ Labs Inc v LinkedIn Corp., 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, No. 17-16783./

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