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Aug 14, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

A federal judge issued a huge setback for LinkedIn on Monday, ruling that LinkedIn can’t block the startup hiQ Labs from accessing public profile data. Many news outlets were calling this a test for the social media conglomerate in how much control it can exercise over data on its users and what it’s believed to be public. The primary question in this case, can a social media site control access to information its users post publicly?

According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction request brought by hiQ Labs and ordered LinkedIn to remove, within 24 hours, any technology preventing hiQ from accessing public profiles.

HiQ Labs, a San Francisco company that applies data science to human resources, assigns red, yellow or green “flight-risk” probabilities to employees by monitoring changes in their LinkedIn profiles and other public information.

The case goes back to May 23 when LinkedIn sent hiQ a cease and desist letter accusing hiQ of violating LinkedIn’s user agreement by scraping and copying data from other users. The letter demanded that hiQ stop using information gathered from LinkedIn and informed hiQ that LinkedIn has blocked its access.

HiQ Labs responded by filing a suit against LinkedIn in June, claiming that LinkedIn was in infringement of antitrust laws.

“To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers,” Chen’s order reads.

“LinkedIn has presented little evidence of users’ actual privacy expectation; out of its hundreds of millions of users, including 50 million using Do Not Broadcast, LinkedIn has only identified three individual complaints specifically raising concerns about data privacy related to third-party data collection,” the order reads.

According to The Hill, hiQ argues that Linkedin’s attempts to limit the startup’s ability to use public profile data is anti-competitive and is a violation of so-called data-scrappers free speech rights.

“LinkedIn refers to itself as a ‘community’ and expressly holds itself out as a place ‘to meet, exchange ideas (and) learn,’ ” hiQ said in an earlier motion. “When a private property owner opens its property to the public, constitutional principles of free and open speech and access to information must be fully respected.”

Naturally, LinkedIn is planning to challenge the decision, a company spokeswoman said.

“We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,” the spokeswoman said. “This case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn.”

The case is considered to have implications beyond LinkedIn and hiQ Labs and could dictate just how much control companies have over publicly available data that is hosted on their services.

LinkedIn has been in the spotlight recently over the recent changes to its user agreement. Many sourcers and recruiters alike have been paranoid to use various Chrome extension and similar sourcing tools that tap into LinkedIn’s public data in fear of retaliation for violating LinkedIn’s terms of service. This ruling is a major win for many of its users and other private Internet companies which look to profit off this information.

Read the full story from The Hill and Reuters.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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