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Beware of LinkedIn Invitations

by Brian Dunning

May 13, 2014

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Donate 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 hasaccess 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 canmake 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.

by Brian Dunning

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