LinkedIn “alert” shows users still on edge about privacy

January 30, 2012

By Gerry Shih and Himank Sharma

Looks like social media users are getting twitchy about their online privacy rights.

Days after Google made known its decision to establish a common privacy policy across  its scores of products,  a chain-message of uncertain origin began circling on the Internet, claiming LinkedIn had quietly changed its own policy on the treatment of user data.

The chain message — which contained step-by-step instructions on how to opt out of this supposed new policy — took on a life of its own, ricocheting across Twitter and spawning numerous discussion and email threads. It suggested LinkedIn had given itself the right to use personal information and photos in ads — without notification .

The catch is, LinkedIn had indeed made the changes last year — only to partially roll them back after users complained.

“Without attracting too much publicity, LinkedIn has updated their privacy conditions,” the message read. “Without any action from your side, LinkedIn is now permitted to use your name and picture in any of their advertisements.“

Hani Durzy, a spokesman for LinkedIn, said the company was surprised when it suddenly began getting questions on Monday about a six-month-old kerfuffle it had considered long dead.

The questions seemed “strange,” Durzy said. “Then we noticed that there seems to be an email going around saying that we just changed our privacy policy, and that we are allowing photos in ads, etc. This did come up as an issue, nearly a year ago.”

But Kathy Shrock, an education writer in Massachussetts who Tweeted about the chain message on Monday, said she had not heard about LinkedIn’s policy change last year and the company needed to do a better job alerting users.

“Everyone’s always concerned about privacy these days,” Shrock said. “You see Google right now, telling you about their privacy rules everywhere, over and over and over again.”

Shrock added: “These privacy notifications should be in your face, right away.”

Meanwhile, Mark Williams, a UK-based blogger who trains businesses on how to use LinkedIn,  felt compelled to publish a post on Monday after clients began calling him to ask whether they should be concerned.

Williams said he thought the message chain might have been created by a user “trying to gain publicity by digging up this old scare-mongering message that LinkedIn is all-of-a-sudden doing terrible things,” Williams said. “When in fact it was much ado about nothing.”

And the moral of the story?

“People make a big deal about privacy right now,” Williams said. “It’s a hot issue.”

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