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LinkedIn hurries to address privacy spat

LinkedIn will change a feature that uses its members' names and photos in advertisements

LinkedIn will make changes to a "social advertising" feature that sparked criticism for using members' names and photographs in advertisements on its website.

After a day of mounting criticism, the social networking service said in a blog post Thursday that it had been "listening" to its users and "could have communicated" its intentions with the new ad feature more clearly. As a result, it said, it will change how the advertisements appear.

If a LinkedIn user "follows" a company or service on LinkedIn, the ad feature can display the user's name and photo in advertisements for that company. LinkedIn said its goal was to deliver more useful ads, but some LinkedIn users complained it was a privacy violation, particularly because they have to opt out of the feature rather than opt in.

In the changes announced Thursday, it appears that users will still need to opt out of the social ads feature, but LinkedIn has made it so people's names and photographs no longer appear. Instead, there is a link in the advertisements that says, for example, "Three people in your network" follow company X.

It's difficult to tell from the blog post what happens when members click on the link, but presumably it shows which people in their network follow the company. LinkedIn didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

LinkedIn started to roll out the new feature in June, but it attracted little attention until this week. On Thursday, the Dutch publication WebWereld reported that the feature might violate Europe's tough data privacy laws.

LinkedIn stopped short of apologizing for the way social ads works. In a blog post titled "Privacy, Advertising, and Putting Members First," LinkedIn said it had been "gathering feedback" from its users and that it wanted to "clarify a few things."

It noted that it published two blog posts and a banner ad in June informing users the feature was being rolled out. It said it never shares personal information with third-party advertisers.

"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," says the blog post, attributed to Director of Product Management Ryan Roslansky.

"So, we will be changing how these types of social ads look," it said, providing "before" and "after" pictures of a sample advertisement. It didn't say when the changes would be made.

The ROI Guy website posted instructions on how to opt out of the social ad system for users who want to.

(WebWereld is an affiliate of IDG News Service.)

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is [email protected]


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