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Privacy concerns force changes to LinkedIn’s ad policy

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Business social networking site LinkedIn has been forced to change their advertising policy over privacy concerns regarding their “social advertising” feature which used users’ names and photographs in ads served on its website.

The system was launched in June but didn’t receive much attention until this week when Dutch publication WebWereld reported that the feature might violate Europe’s tough data privacy laws.

The key notion behind LinkedIn’s “social advertising” feature is that if a user “follows” a company or service on LinkedIn, then their details; including their name and photo can be displayed in banner advertising for that company. LinkedIn said its goal was to deliver more useful ads, but some LinkedIn users complained it was a privacy violation, particularly because they have to opt out of the feature rather than opt in.

LinkedIn has announced that it is “listening” to its users and that it plans to change the system. In its newly proposed system, although users will still need to opt out of the “social ads”, LinkedIn has stated that people’s personal details and photographs will no longer appear along side. Instead, the information is delivered in a more subtle and private manner by simply revealing that “X number of people in your network follow this company”.

In an official blog post titled “Privacy, Advertising, and Putting Members First,” LinkedIn said it had been “gathering feedback” from its users and that it wanted to “clarify a few things.” The blog can be found below.

Over the last few days, some of you may have read stories or blog posts about new forms of advertising that we are testing on our site, called “social ads” [1]. Since the launch, we’ve also been gathering feedback from our users and we hear you loud and clear.

The trust of our members is central to what we do, and we always aim for clarity, consistency, and member control in all matters related to privacy and data. With that in mind, let me clarify a few things:

  • In early June, we announced changes to our privacy policy — including the new ad format’s opt-out policy — ahead of the first small test of these social ads. We also reiterated the same during the launch of social ads, explaining how members could opt-out of sharing their recommendations with their network. For those members who may have not read this on our blog, we included a banner ad on the site that contained a link to the new documents, including a summary of the changes, and links from which all members could easily access their account settings.
  • We never share personal information with third party advertisers. That was true prior to the launch of the social ads test, and remains true today. The only information that is used in social ads is information that is already publicly available and viewable by anyone in your network.
  • Most importantly, we made it easy for our members to opt-out of inclusion from all social ads with one click. On each member’s Accounts and Settings page, the first option under Privacy Controls (under the “Account” tab) is “Manage Social Advertising”.

Our core guiding value is Members First. And, with regards to the social ads we’ve been testing, we’re listening to our members. We could have communicated our intentions — to provide more value and relevancy to our members — more clearly.

Most importantly, what we’ve learned now, is that, even though our members are happy to have their actions, such as recommendations, be viewable by their network as a public action, some of those same members may not be comfortable with the use of their names and photos associated with those actions used in ads served to their network.

What do you think about LinkedIn’s advertising policy? Would it bother you to have your details and pictures publicly visible alongside brands and companies?

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