LinkedIn: Users forced into social advertising as a test

On Thursday, LinkedIn said that the company will no longer use names and photos in their newest ad program. The change comes after users of the professional social network were concerned by potential privacy issues. So why were so many people automatically added to the program? LinkedIn says it was part of the plan.

“We were testing this new ad program, and opt in is how we began the test,” a LinkedIn spokesperson told The Tech Herald.

The comment was made, after we prompted LinkedIn for an explanation as to why users were automatically added to the social advertising program launched in June. Based on the answer, some 120 million users were automatically enrolled in the social advertising test, simply because they were there. So instead of allowing people to opt-in on their own, LinkedIn felt it only right to force everyone into it.

“Technically, it could be argued that LinkedIn did cover its bases in a way that a grinning lawyer might defend – they did give public notification of some form. The fact that virtually no-one knew what the ramifications were indicates that it was a technical notification only...,” commented Steve Woodruff, the blogger who alerted the world to LinkedIn’s actions this week.

LinkedIn told users on its blog about privacy policy changes and the advertising tests. Users were told of the option to opt-out of these tests in the same post. However, it’s hard to quantify how many readers the LinkedIn blog gets. Likewise, LinkedIn will not comment on active users on the site as a whole.

“For those members who may have not read this on our blog, we included a banner ad on the site that contained a link to the new documents, including a summary of the changes, and links from which all members could easily access their account settings,” Ryan Roslansky wrote on the LinkedIn blog.

“We never share personal information with third party advertisers. That was true prior to the launch of the social ads test, and remains true today. The only information that is used in social ads is information that is already publicly available and viewable by anyone in your network.”

In the end, the public backlash caused LinkedIn to rethink things. They admit they could have communicated the program and policy changes more clearly.

“…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,” Roslansky added.

As such, the new social advertising displays will only contain a note that explains that “x” number of people in your network follow or recommend a given sponsor. No names. No pictures.

Trust is the foundation upon which the LinkedIn platform is built, Roslansky commented.

“We’ll continue to work hard to earn and maintain your trust, while delivering the most valuable and relevant experience we can.”

Those wanting to opt-out can see the directions and image by Steve Woodruff here.


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