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LinkedIn Pushes Its Users Into Ads Because It Can (and Wants That Money) (Update)

[UPDATED: See below.] Maybe LinkedIn (LNKD) has been feeling nervous as analysts say it's overrated. Or perhaps it was just a Max Bialystock moment from The Producers: "Oooooh! I want that money!" But the company has pulled a Facebook by adding member faces and names to online ads and automatically opting everyone in.

Talk about stumbling when you already have problems. You'd think that management would have taken note of the trouble Facebook has run into with similar use of people's identities. But maybe all the clarity blurs when you're desperate to bring in more dollars and some marketers stand at the sidelines saying, "Want some candy?"

LinkedIn has been slow responding to the press over this. But here's a screen shot of the notice that lets you know of the presumably new program (though it may have been around for a while, for all we know from the lack of explanation -- click to enlarge):

Given the general sensitivity people have developed over privacy issues, it would seem surprising that a company could be so socially, politically, and emotionally tone deaf as to pull something like this. In fact, the company would practically have to be... Facebook.

Of course, that's exactly what's going on. Facebook not only is the big name in social networks, but recruiters are increasingly using it to find job candidates. Hiring solutions just happen to be the single biggest revenue source for LinkedIn.

To keep investors interested and the revenue coming, LinkedIn needs a new tool, so it took one from Facebook. The business social networking site might add a user's name, image, or both to an ad, if the person in question did any of the following:

  • recommend people or services
  • follow companies
  • take other actions
Other actions. Broad enough for you? Let's put this into perspective with some questions. If you followed a company because you were interested in information but had no experience with it, are you still fodder for ads? It would seem so. If you get into a discussion about a company, might you show up promoting it? Hard to tell from what LinkedIn wrote, but don't write off the possibility. What if you have an account associated with your business? Does your boss want to see you endorse companies?

And just like its hero Facebook, LinkedIn automatically opted everyone in to this service. It's easy to understand how the company might feel pressured, especially as it has said how a substantial majority of subscribers don't even show up on a monthly basis. But this isn't the way to solve the problem. Management will only make it worse.

By the way, if you're on LinkedIn and would like to opt out of this, here are directions from BoingBoing. The process isn't as obvious as you might think. Or then again, maybe it's just as obvious as you'd think.

UPDATE: Ooh, did the press collectively touch a nerve? A PR person sent out a blanket email to "clarify a few inaccuracies that we've seen in some of the recent media coverage, and detail a change we are making to part of our social ad offering -- specifically, the use of individual names and images associated with certain actions in ads served to their networks."
The clarification wasn't too impressive:

  • LinkedIn announced the change in June! Except, clearly a lot of people had no idea this was coming.
  • It only takes one click to opt out! Right -- once you dig through and find the one place to click. In the BoingBoing directions, there are actually four steps, with the place to check well buried.
  • LinkedIn never shares personal information with third party advertisers! Uh, I didn't notice where people said it was. LinkedIn doesn't have to share that information to make it look as though individuals promote products or services without being explicitly asked if they do.
LinkedIn says it puts members first. But, holy moly, it turns out that "some" people might not have been comfortable having their faces and names used in ads. Ya think? Boy, what a shocker.


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