LinkedIn asks judge to dismiss privacy class-action suit

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LinkedIn has asked a California federal judge to toss out a class-action suit that claims the social networking company hacks into users' accounts for promotional use.

The argument, which was filed Friday in a federal court in San Jose, Calif., asserts that the suit is “meritless” because members consent to the site's terms, which allow LinkedIn to send invitations to their contacts. It believes users consented to having their email accounts accessed.

Additionally, the company states that the four plaintiffs, each LinkedIn members, should have known what they were signing up for since any “reasonably prudent Internet user” would have realized the permissions they were granting to the company after going through the various permission screens for the “Add Connections” feature.

The original complaint filed by the plaintiffs in September argued that when users entered their email addresses to enable the “Add Connections” feature, LinkedIn “pretended to be” the owners of the external email accounts in order to access users' contacts onto its servers for promotional use.

It stated that the company “attempts to hack into your email account by tunneling through any open email program on a user's desktop.” In doing so, it would then send endorsement emails to users' external email accounts, which in some cases include contacts with whom the user may not want to connect, such as former spouses or even clients.

However, in its letter to U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, the 259 million-member network said it believes that the plaintiffs' claims of deception have no credit.

“Plaintiffs do not come close to meeting this standard because they do not allege what screens they saw, how they were supposedly deceived by the screens, and what actions they took in reliance on them,” the motion said.

The company goes on to argue that the case doesn't fall into the class-action realm because if the plaintiffs were “embarrassed” by the invitations sent to their contacts, or did not understand the permission screens prior to enabling the “Add Connections” feature, they are “individualized” scenarios.

UPDATE: In an email to SCMagazine.com, Larry Russ of Russ August and Kabat, attorney for the plaintiffs, commented on LinkedIn's recent filed motion.

"In an attempt to stand up to criticism regarding its marketing practices, LinkedIn insults the intelligence of its own members by blaming them for allowing LinkedIn to spam email addresses harvested from users' email accounts," Russ said. "Contrary to LinkedIn's latest pleadings, its deceptive and cryptic welcome screens do not give LinkedIn the right to illegally spam harvested email addresses for the purpose of enriching LinkedIn. One would expect a company that claims to be about people's professional reputations to be aware of the harm caused by its spamming practices."

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