Beware of LinkedIn Invitations

This is a bit off-topic, so think of it as a bit of skeptical consumer protectionism. This morning LinkedIn spammed every single email address in my computer’s address book with an invitation to connect with me, including many, many people with whom I have no desire to be “linked in.”

Much of the promotion I do for Skeptoid projects relies on social media accounts, so I have an account for just about all such networks, LinkedIn included. However, my personal address book includes all sorts of people connected with every aspect of my life, past and present, good and bad; plus, it’s shared with my wife, including everyone she knows, has known, works with, and has worked with.

Today’s snafu brought me an onslaught of emails, many that are some variation of “I have no desire to be on LinkedIn with you.” The feeling’s mutual in a lot of cases, but LinkedIn seems to have little care about this; they just want to grow their network with as many email addresses as possible. I received some benign link from my LinkedIn account, and on an innocent-looking page, clicked through some “Yes, I know Mr. X” button that seemed innocuous. What I hadn’t noticed was the subtle scroll bar — by agreeing that I knew Mr. X, I had also just unwittingly agreed to send an invitation email to my entire address book. In some cases awkward, in others downright inappropriate. Note that I’m not the only one annoyed by this — LinkedIn has been sued for precisely this behavior.

Here’s how to prevent the same thing from happening to you:

While logged into LinkedIn, look at the top of the page and find Network. Hover your mouse and click on Contacts. Now look for a little Gear icon to manage the settings. Click it.

You’ll see a list of all the services LinkedIn can access. Their documentation claims that a “Remove” link is available beside anything that’s been synced or imported, but I did not see a Remove on any of mine, so I’m not sure how they got into my address book. If you see the link, click it.

I am still investigating how they got this enormous list from me; I can guarantee for an absolute fact that at least some of them are people with whom I have never, ever been “Linked In” with in the past, or wanted to be; and I don’t use LinkedIn for emailing with people; so scratch the hypothesis that maybe they got it from some old account of mine.

UPDATE: I have determined that the LinkedIn app on my phone has access to my contact list, which is synced between my phone and my computer. A screen in the phone app says “We’ll import your address book to LinkedIn to suggest connections and help you manage your contacts. We won’t email anyone without your permission.” There does not appear to be a way to disable this, other than to delete the LinkedIn app from your phone. Which I just did.

NEW UPDATE: A listener sent me an email advising how you can make sure that Yahoo and Gmail are not being mined by LinkedIn for your contacts. Click those links to see. I found that my Gmail accounts were being mined.

Your speculations and comments are invited below.

About Brian Dunning

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid.
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48 Responses to Beware of LinkedIn Invitations

  1. Scott says:

    I almost feel like I should be offended for *not* getting a linkedin invite from you, then, being a micropayment supporter. Almost, but not quite. Keep up the good work.

  2. Tom Fitch says:

    Bummer, Brian. Another warning: I thought this was going to be about phishing emails disguised as LinkedIn invites. I wasn’t paying attention one day and clicked on one that looked legit, I thought I knew the person. Before I could react, a java app fires up — within seconds my network connection is slammed shut by our IT dept. virus scanner and they take my computer away to wipe it.

  3. Mister Linker says:

    I know there’s a screen that looks suspiciously like a “we need to confirm your email address with us”, when in fact it gives them access to everything in your mail account. It pops up for me nearly every time I add a connection. So sleezy.

  4. jamesnwaite says:

    Have you had a look at “Network” > “Add connections” > “Manage Imported Connections” and deleted all the stored contacts. At sometime you must have given your email account details that allowed LinkedIn to import your email contacts list. Yes they say they will never send an email without your permission, but reading posts on the LinkedIn forum indicates they have been spamming peoples imported contract list for some time now.

    Usually I avoid the “See Who You Know” tool in LinkedIn and similar tools on other social media.

    • Incredible. It had 1464 contacts of mine that “I’m not yet connected to”. So evidently they did get into my computer, probably via a deceptively innocent-looking link.

    • Conan says:

      They must have changed the way they do it .. so as at July 2015 🙂 to remove your imported contacts….

      Top black line “Home, Profile, Connections, Jobs, Interests”

      Select Connections/Add Connections/ (a link at the top right after “See who you already know on LinkedIn”) Manage Imported Contacts.

      When the next page opens select them all and at the bottom is an option to delete them.

      Hope this help’s

      • Luke says:

        Thanks Conan. I deleted 700+ contacts.
        LinkedIn got my contacts via their Android app. Under Settings there is Sync Contacts and Sync LinkedIn with your phone. I’ve now set these to Off and cleared memory and cache on the LinkedIn app. If that doesn’t work I’ll delete the app.

  5. billkowalski2014 says:

    Evidently doing just about anything in LinkedIn opens the door to an invasive search of your computer’s files. Without any expressed permission from me, LinkedIn somehow gathered the contacts from my Outlook, Yahoo, AOL and Google accounts – when I wasn’t even logged in to all of them.

    My guess is they have put a lot of effort into whatever it takes to run through our digital “pockets”, because – like Facebook, Google, Yahoo etc. – they understand information is now where the real money is, and personal privacy is just an obstacle for them to bypass through deceptive practices.

    There are many ways to “network” other than LinkedIn. I got hooked in when one of our senior managers sent me a friend request, which put a bit of pressure on me to join so I could accept. It seems to be useful mainly for those moments when one wants to trumpet to the world some dull thing nobody really wants to hear about, such as “Bill Kowalski just changed his profile picture!”

    Some of the less skeptical users have said they thought it was important to be on there to not be left out of the networking, a claim I suspect is unsupported by the facts. Knowing what a pain it is I doubt it’s worth the effort to squeeze out whatever value it has.

  6. ask412 says:

    Appreciate the heads up.

    A good online policy is;
    cautious use of any platform in general use including apps
    keep one eye at all times on hacker stories

    Which circles back to appreciating the advice in the short article, thank you.
    ___________
    http://thehackernews.com/
    http://www.us-cert.gov/mailing-lists-and-feeds

  7. Funny I hate linked in refuse to use it. when I got the email from you opened an account linked with my email I used to start it and took my contacts list. When I realized you were scammed I deleted the whole thing.

  8. Bill Jordan says:

    And here I thought I was special

  9. Wordwizard says:

    I didn’t find REMOVE either. I belong to a LinkedIn actors/directors group that agrees to accept invitations to connect with others in the group. I somehow got linked to some annoying used car salesman, but have not had any horror stories to report.

  10. Under “EMAIL, CONTACTS, & CALENDARS” I get (besides the Linkedin entry itself) 4 entries with a Sync button and one entry (Iphone address book, and I’ve never had an Iphone) with a “Download” button. No “remove” buttons.

  11. Ja. I’m a c complete stranger and it’d b be really awkward.
    Shocked I didn’t get an invite.

    Next time, perhaps.

  12. Greg Blair says:

    This same thing happened to a friend of mine, which is why I wasn’t fooled into going on to LInked In. Golly, isn’t there something that can be done to stop Linked In from doing this? I may be — scratch that: probably am — naive in thinking that there’s some rule, guideline, accepted protocol, if not a law, that should disallow such activity.

  13. I get several emails a day with invites to LinkIn and Twitter – neither of which I use, and they have the “verify you know so and so” button I’ve also never clicked. I’m going to post this blog on G+, and send a link to it to each person I get an Email invite from in the future.

  14. Christina says:

    If you endorse the skills listed by any of your acquaintances, are you vulnerable to having everyone on your email list get contacted? I know for a fact that they have raided my email account at some point in the past, because Linked In is always suggesting I friend folks that I used to email in the context of my business (sold in 2012). I’d sure hate to think “I” was sending out emails indiscriminately inviting people to join me on Linked In.

    When someone I know invites me to connect with them on Linked In and the invite is a form message, I always communicate back and ask them, are you you? Or did I get robo-contacted? So far, it’s been real people who just neglected to personalize the standard wording of the invite.

  15. Swampwitch7 says:

    And people wonder why I don’t have facebook………

  16. Sheogorath says:

    I once received a LinkedIn invitation from someone that I know of, but whom I have no desire to link to because of the role he and his wife played in the death of a good friend, and I didn’t just ignore the invite, I deleted the email in which it had been sent. Lucky me, huh?

  17. Sue says:

    I’m not a member of LinkedIn, but I once received an email inviting me to “link” with someone I’ve never even heard of. I soon discovered that the only way I could decline the invitation was by joining LinkedIn myself, which I did not wish to do, so I ignored the email. I then received two further emails from LinkedIn, reminding me that I hadn’t responded to the invitation.

    At this point I contacted LinkedIn and asked how non-members are supposed to decline unsolicited invitations. Their (eventual) response was to tell me that they had added my email address to their “do not contact” list. Which is fine for me, but it doesn’t solve the problem for anybody else.

  18. I have never given LinkedIn permission to sync to any address books or email but that doesn’t stop it searching my outlook on my computer both for contacts to recommend that I connect to, but I realize they are even reading my emails for names. there are rumours they even search your browsing history. scary stuff! I can only think of deleting the LinkedIn account to stop that.

  19. Rick says:

    I was finding “connections” that were not in my network. When I deleted these spurious entries, they would reappear. The deleting did not stick.

    Then I tried an experiment. I started deleting everyone in my connections list. To my great surprise and suspicion, I began to receive numerous invitations per day. I would normally get 1 or 2 per week, at the most. I was getting 6 or 7 per day!

    So I decided to close out my account. Since I had more than 500 connections, I received a message that “customer service” would have to be involved and that it will take several days to complete my request. I’m still waiting to get notification that I am off LinkedIn.

    Bottom line – it got to be sneaky and creepy. I want to control my contacts, not LinkedIn.

  20. Neverpearl says:

    I at one point when LinkedIn was new created an account because it seemed like a good idea. I then closed it after receiving numerous emails from people I either did not know or I knew did not want to connect with me. I continued to receive requests and still do a couple of years later, from people I do not know or have any sort of “link” with at all. I tried tonight to go to LinkedIn after two new requests to confirm I indeed did not have an account and low and below–it had me signed back up in a flash because I could not see my status. This is a devious and misleading program that I would not trust with anything. It is like trying to close an account on Facebook–you really can’t unless you want make a huge big production of it (which I finally did with FB).
    All of this “social networking” stuff is sort of freaky to me and you can’t trust it. Period.

  21. Chirag says:

    How can i notify all invitations again?

  22. Jean says:

    Does anyone know whether or not an invitation can only be “withdrawn” if it was sent to InMail? This has happened to me multiple times and there are folks, as with many of you, that I have no desire to be “linked” with anywhere. Sad part is, I have no idea how the invites even went out. I’ve deleted my account as a result.

  23. Dayve says:

    I was having the same issue with Linked In. My gmail address book was coming up in the suggested connections. I couldn’t see a remove button on the connections page. Nor did Linked In appear in the accounts permissions page in my google account. Unless Linked In somehow has access via Chrome for example (so they wouldn’t show up in Google’s account permissions page? All sound pretty sneaky anyway.

  24. Dayve says:

    Another thing that happened once was that I received a connection request from a friend. I accepted and then received another email from Linked In saying the HE had accepted MY invite. No that was really sneaky Linked In practice!

  25. Absolutely Furious at LinkedIn says:

    Well I just got slammed tonight! When I logged on, there were hundreds of “imported” contacts. Don’t have the LinkedIn app on my phone, never gave my consent, and yet they raided my gmail account. I checked my gmail account permissions page and LinkedIn isn’t listed as someone to whom I’ve given permission. And when I got to the LinkedIn page, there wasn’t any “remove” or “block” button to click. I have know idea how/where to see if they’ve uploaded my calendar either. I AM FURIOUS.

    Creepy? yes. Sleazy? yes. Honorific business practice? yes. I thank you for your post. It’s time to get the word out about their misleading and deceptive business practices. Report them to the Better Business Bureau and get the word out.

  26. Creepy linkedin says:

    Thank you for your post. It’s so wrong linkedin can access your contacts. I actually got asked by linkedin (like you) “do you know these people” and there was an email address of someone who had died!! They died before linkedin even existed!! A family friend whose email account I can’t change which had obviously never been shut down and there I was being asked to connect with them by sending them a linkedin request because linkedin had accessed my Gmail. Creepy doesn’t even cover it!! I’ve followed your post and stopped it. Thank you.

  27. Deborah says:

    why it is so complicated to delete? It should be first thing immediately beside “add”.
    I am so frustrated with LinkedIn.

    I recently received several emails “add me ” from the people I have no idea who they are.
    so I deleted the email, but they are still there after several weeks even if I didn’t accept The invitation.

    What surprised me is that few weeks ago I again received few invitation and of them are FROM ME to ME!
    This is how I realized that LinkedIn has break in into my email address.

    The 3 requests are sent to me using my other professionals emails.
    This is so wrong.

  28. I cannot find the Network link you refer (I only have a basic linkedin account). Could you please be more explicit.

    • Conan says:

      Top black line “Home, Profile, Connections, Jobs, Interests”

      Select Connections/Add Connections/ (a link at the top right after “See who you already know on LinkedIn”) Manage Imported Contacts.

      When the next page opens select them all and at the bottom is an option to delete them.

      Hope this help’s

  29. jaw444 says:

    i never respond to LinkedIn emails, partly because when i did in the distant past, i would get to a screen with a message about contacting some person or other i knew, who i thought had asked me to connect with them, but i was told i could have the privilege of doing this if i upgraded my membership to the paid version, so i just stopped opening those and flagged them as spam and deleted them with the other spam—-until a few days ago. I got one of those “please add me to your linked in list” from my very best friend in the world who i’ve known since we were 10, who i see often, weekly, so, thinking she had sent this thing, i clicked on it. It took me to a page that i didn’t have her name or anything about her on it, but had an extremely long list of people who it said were my contacts, some of who i knew, some of who i didn’t, many of who i have never heard of. It certainly wasn’t people from my address book, it was people from social media, going back many years to when my only social media experience was on email lists. But this list contained way more than those people, i only had ever heard of a minority of them. i scrolled through it it to see what the hell it was. I never did find my friend’s name, that was a COMPLETE SCAM. I think it’s likely she had no idea it was sent out on her behalf. So, after i closed out of the page, without knowingly clicking on or submitting anything, soon after that, i started getting automated emails from from LinkedIn, lots of them, which said:

    Hi ,

    [my name] invited you to LinkedIn.

    Join now to connect with [my name] and the rest of your professional world.

    I then realized that because i had just ventured onto the LinkedIn site, i had been severely contaminated, and my contamination was spreading to huge numbers of other people. not sure why i was sent a copy of these. Two family members contacted me about it, one, to ask me what it was about and the other to ask me to please never give their emial address to LinkedIn again. I had to explain the above, which doesn’t make very much sense, and basically, i have been very embarrassed by this, to have LinkedIn representing me to people i know as if i’m asking them to join me in LinkedIn, when i haven’t, and i don’t even use LinkedIn, which is a useless network for me, and worse than useless. i’m furious and if i can join any lawsuit, i would be happy to.
    I am now ready to start adding curse words to my post, so i will stop.

  30. Stacey says:

    Since it seems that LinkedIn constantly changes how to do things on their site, here is the method I used today (6-22-15) to clear out the unconnected contacts that somehow got uploaded without my permission. From the top bar, I clicked “Connections”, then “Add Connections”. All the email accounts appear so you can choose one to import, but off to the right is a link that says “Manage imported contacts”. When I clicked on that I could see all the email addresses that LinkedIn had snagged and keeps using to make suggestions to me. (As far as I know they haven’t sent emails out, but I don’t even want them to have the data!) I was able to choose and delete them all in one fell swoop. I feel much better, although I’m interested to see how long it will be before they all come back…

  31. beth says:

    I am not seeing ‘network’ anywhere. All of a sudden, I’m getting notifications all day that I’m now connected to people I never asked and I’ve gone to every link on the settings and I see nothing that would say specifically how to turn this off. I unchecked a few things and I thought I un-did this and yet, I continue to get them..I might be 10 in 15 minutes…it’s bizarre and of course, we get zero say in LI’s decisions…

    • Conan says:

      Top black line “Home, Profile, Connections, Jobs, Interests”

      Select Connections/Add Connections/ (a link at the top right after “See who you already know on LinkedIn”) Manage Imported Contacts.

      When the next page opens select them all and at the bottom is an option to delete them.

      Hope this help’s

  32. Steve T says:

    How to get rid of this:
    1. log in to your Linkedin account
    2. go settings -> profile ->email addresses
    3. remove everything but your primary – try to get an anonymous email and use it only with Linkedin
    4. VERY important !!! DO not connect to Linkedin with the same browser you are connected to your email provider. If you need absolutely to read your emails the same time you consult your Linkedin account use two different browsers (Chrome & Firefox OR IE) . Being connected to both these accounts in the same browser session allows Linkedin to get your contact list without any special permission! They can, even read your emails or import them.

  33. steve says:

    set up a new gmail account that you never intend to use, ensure there are no contacts in it, and make this your primary and only linkedin account. Otherwise, these bastards will always be trying to outfox you to get to your address books. Stop this invasion of privacy. Be informed.

  34. lynn says:

    Awesome ! i just accepted an invite from a friend, and accidently invited 60 people, even though I hit “cancel”
    🙁

  35. Marc says:

    Thanks You for Sharing. This just happened to me. All of my contacts got random requests to Connect. I just uninstalled the app. Appreciate it

  36. Joseph White says:

    Brian (and many others who posted suggestions) — thank you for your help & guidance! I’m truly embarrassed that several (maybe many more) key clients received auto/unauthorized Invites from me. I’ve spend hours trying to prevent LI from their dastardly efforts. Deleted apps on various phones.

    Above — special thanks to Steve T. who advises using separate browsers and anonymous email. If this is what it takes, then kiss off LI. joew left bank

  37. Joe DiCar says:

    I just uninstalled the app because every time the app updates it checks the box to sync with my phone contacts. This is the second time and I am fed up with this invasion of my privacy to access my contacts without my knowledge and send out requests.

  38. Erl Hardy says:

    A few years ago I deactivated my LinkedIn account. After doing that I was not able to get back in using my email address and password. So I assumed I was completely deactivated. I keep getting emails from LinkedIn telling me that people want to connect with me on LinkedIn or do some other kind of contact within LinkedIn. This strikes me as, at the very least, a deceptive business practice. I can no longer get into LinkedIn to ask them to fully deactivate while they suggest to the world that I still have a LinkedIn account. Aren’t there any enterprising lawyers out there who can file a class action to stop this kind of abuse?

  39. Mohnia says:

    Hello,

    I am a bit worrying as I received two emails from LinkedIn. One was from my ex who married now… And it said this person would like to stay in touch with you, confirm you know him!!
    While the second was from someone maybe just a client , I don’t even remember his name, but I noticed LinkedIn said : accept his invitation.

    We ended our relation in a peaceful way… Or it is rather him who vanished leaving me with many questions of what happened… It was a big shock for me, I saw him on FB from far he married. I am over him…but I also do not feel like to stay in a friend zone, he harmed me a lot.

    My question, did he just said yes I know this email ( knowing I do not use LinkedIn since we broke up) or he meant to invite me?

    I asked LinkedIn to not send me invitations again… I hope it works.

    The best thing I did in my life is to delete all my social networks… I sometimes use FB as it provides private accounts…

    • Sue says:

      Mohnia, I believe that LinkedIn secretly searches email address books and sends out invitations without the knowledge of the member concerned. The comments before yours appear to confirm this. Maybe this is why you’ve had a message which appears to be from your ex, but it’s quite possible that he doesn’t know about it.

      • Mohnia says:

        Hello,

        i was posting this with the hope someone will comment!! Million thanks Sue! I hope it was just done by LinkedIn…

        Actually I was a bit doubtful as I mentioned , I received two emails from two persons:

        – my ex : this person said he knows you and he would like to stay in touch with you, confirm you know him.
        – an old client: mr.X Y would like to invite you to join his LinkedIn, accept his invitation.

        See the diffrence?

        Long time when I used LinkedIn ~ I remember that when I could not send an invitation to someone they ask me to click you know him or her… I didn’t use it since 2014… Dunno if LinkedIn has changed now.

        I received these two emails.. So I doubted that he sent it in purpose.

        I guess if he sent it in purpose he will contact me again,.. I hope he stays far…and I decided to ignore him.

        Anyway, many thanks for responding to my email ~ and for reassuring me. I am feeling much better, I panicked a lot the other day.

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