The professional networking site is accused of stealing users’ identities for marketing purposes by breaking in to their personal email accounts and downloading contacts’ addresses.
According to a complaint filed Sept. 17, LinkedIn required users to provide an external e-mail address as their username on its site, then used the information to access their external e-mail accounts when they were left open.
“LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn’s servers,” the documents state. “LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”
LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company’s website as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!” according to the complaint. Java and Groovy are programming languages.
In an e-mail to Bloomberg, Deborah Lagutaris, whose LinkedIn profile describes her as a tax preparer, real estate broker and former law clerk, said the company contacted more than 3,000 people using her name, including those copied in on her e-mail messages.
“This means that not only direct e-mail contacts but peripherals as well,” were used, she said. “I contacted LinkedIn and they said, ‘Oh, you can remove all those invitations from your account manually. We don’t know what happened.’”
Jeffrey Barr of Livingston, New Jersey, said in an e-mail that LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts, inviting them to connect.
“Some of the people I hadn’t talked to in five to 10 years, including several old girlfriends I had forgotten to delete,” he said.
The company told him he hadn’t unchecked a default setting allowing it to use the e-mails, he said.
LinkedIn assures its users when they log in, “We will not e-mail anyone without your permission,” the complaint stated.
The professional network claims to have more than 238 million members. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Weiner is quoted in the complaint as saying on a second quarter earnings call, “This strong membership growth is due in large part to new growth optimization efforts.”
Company spokesman Doug Madey said the lawsuit is without merit and the company will fight it.
ThreatWatch is a regularly updated catalog of data breaches successfully striking every sector of the globe, as reported by journalists, researchers and the victims themselves.