LinkedIn is facing a class action lawsuit after its premium “reference report” service over claims it has violated individuals' privacy.
Four people are bringing the claim, citing various attempts at getting jobs which they argue may have been thwarted by LinkedIn's paid-for reference report service.
The legal documents, which were filed last month, highlight that members are not notified when potential employers run a report on them, meaning “any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based on the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained”.
The complaint adds: “Such secrecy in dealing in consumer information directly contradicts the express purposes of the [Fair Credit Reporting Act], which was enacted to promote accuracy, fairness, and the privacy of personal information assembled by credit reporting agencies.”
It goes on to note that LinkedIn's marketing actually promotes this service specifically to employers, with statements such as “get the real story on any candidate” and “find references who can give real, honest, feedback”.
That's when the documents get really quite punchy, at one point claiming LinkedIn has created a marketplace in which it “sells employment information that may or may not be accurate, and that it has obtained in part from unwitting members, and without complying with the FCRA”.
The plaintiffs are “harmed by the defendent's violations of the FCRA” and are seeking damages, as well as “injunctive relief”.
So that's the legal argument. Given that it's a class action it could have huge ramifications for LinkedIn if the plaintiffs are succesful – after all it boasts 300m users worldwide.
Here are their individual stories:
* Following an interview, Georgia-based Tracee Sweet was offered a job, though this offer was later revoked after references had been checked and “based on those references, had changed its mind”. Sweet says she did not give any references herself, but her LinkedIn profile was accessed by the company.
* After being approached by a recuiter and filling out an online form, James Ralston, who lives in California, was later told that both potential employers had declined to interview him.
* Florida-based Lisa Jaramillo was contacted by an in-house recruiter, but after connecting with another person from the team on LinkedIn, the company did not pursue its interest.
* Tiffany Thomas, who also lives in Florida, applied for a job, saw that a manager from the company had viewed her LinkedIn profile, and interviewed with the company. She has not received word back as to whether the company will offer her employment.
LinkedIn spokesman Richard George told City A.M: "We take member privacy very seriously. We believe that the legal claims in the recently-filed lawsuit are without merit, and we intend to fight it vigorously."
He added: "A reference search, which is only available to premium account holders, simply lets a searcher locate people in their network who have worked at the same company during the same time period as a member they would like to learn more about. A reference search does not reveal any of that member's non-public information."