As reported previously on SourceCon and ERE, the LinkedIn legal team has been taking an aggressive stance with early stage startups that they feel could pose a threat to their LinkedIn Recruiter product. This week, I caught up with HiringSolved CEO, Shon Burton, about the startup’s legal battle with LinkedIn. Below is our conversation.
SourceCon: We have access to the LinkedIn claims… what is the HiringSolved story?
Burton: I can tell you that a lot of what they’re claiming is false. We’ll be responding to their claim soon with a point-by- point rebuttal. The most accurate parts of their claim are the screenshots they’ve taken from our site, but their interpretation of that information is incorrect. Most of their claims are mischaracterized or completely wrong. We do aggregate data from LinkedIn along with many other data sources. That’s true. It’s also fair to say that we compete favorably with their LinkedIn recruiter product. Which is why I think they’re being so aggressive here. The DMCA and CFAA claims are crazy. LinkedIn never contacted us before filing suit, never banned our IPs and never sent a cease and desist or any other communication. They just went straight to court. They know we’re a startup and probably think we’re going to be easy to kill but we’re ready to fight for our right to exist.
SourceCon: Did you create false profiles to gather information?
Burton: The claim says that we created fake profiles and fooled people into connecting with those “bot” profiles to enable us to gather information. This isn’t true. LinkedIn likes to say that it protects it’s member’s profile info, and most people believe that their information cannot be viewed unless they connect to another member, but this is also not true. Anyone can see almost anyone else’s full profile details without being connected in any way. There are several features in LinkedIn that enable this by design.
SourceCon: Can you go into what you do to obtain information?
Burton: Honestly that has evolved a lot over time. We’re only 2 years old so we’ve changed and advanced a lot in those 2 years. As our marketing information states, we’re based on a distributed crawler engine. Today, most of our information is gathered by fairly traditional link-following crawler behavior.
As most SourceCon readers know, the information is all out there for the taking. LinkedIn cajoles their users into creating a rich public profile, which get indexed (copied) by search engines, in turn driving traffic to LinkedIn. When you do a Google search on your name, your LinkedIn profile is usually one of the top results. This isn’t an accident. LinkedIn wants this data to be indexed and spends effort to make sure those results are at the top. Most LinkedIn users don’t understand that they have a rich public LinkedIn profile, which search engines all have a copy of.
SourceCon: Why are you speaking out now?
Burton: When the first stories came out, we were just learning of the claim ourselves. That’s how fast things move today. Ironically, news agencies scrape the court websites looking for anything related to the big tech companies. So we literally learned about this case via GigaOm, who had a copy of the claim before we were even served.
I want to start getting our side of the story out there. As I said, LinkedIn has never contacted us outside of filing their claim in the court. This is very aggressive behavior. They aren’t giving us any option other than a full on fight. Also, a lot of what they’ve said in the claim is false. We attribute the sources of all information in HiringSolved, including the exact URL. They’re claiming we simply steal and resell their data. We don’t. There’s no value in that. People won’t pay for that. We combine LinkedIn data with other data from all over the web. We attribute the source. We have data LinkedIn doesn’t have. We have search and analysis capabilities that LinkedIn doesn’t offer. The combination of information from LinkedIn + Twitter + Facebook + Pandora + Github + StackOverflow + Quora, for example, all combined and distilled into a cohesive profile, that’s what’s interesting. Gaining insight from the combination of data and offering better methods to search the data –that’s why people want HiringSolved.
SourceCon: What public LinkedIn information are you using?
Burton: Ideally, all of it. It’s our mission to create “Google for Talent”, which I see as the evolution of search. There is so much information out there and it updates so quickly, there is a big need for application specific search systems. LinkedIn has essentially created the modern phonebook. It’s a large catalog of facts about people. Again, we link to the source data just like Google does. We drive traffic to LinkedIn; we’re not a replacement for it. But since HiringSolved is a purpose built tool. It’s much more focused than a general search engine, or a social network, which is why it works better for finding talent.
SourceCon: Why do you feel like you have a strong argument?
Burton: LinkedIn’s profile data is not protected by copyright or DMCA. Facts cannot be owned. The fact that you studied at Harvard in 2002 or worked for Oracle in 2004 is not something that LinkedIn can own. The Supreme Court decided this in 1991. This is a slippery slope for LinkedIn. It’s built a billion dollar business on selling data it can’t own. We know they don’t own the data and we know that we didn’t break the law acquiring the data. I’d prefer to talk to LinkedIn and establish a business remedy, but that doesn’t seem possible at this point, so we’re going to battle it out. In just 2 years we have built a great business with stellar growth and some of the top companies in the world using our product. We’ll fight to keep it going. Aggregators are here to stay. People want this capability and the data is out there and not copyrightable.
We will be writing more about this case as it progresses.