LinkedIn Privacy Is a Contradiction In Terms

Just give me one thing that I can hold onto.  — Bonnie Raitt

It bothers me that LinkedIn sells the fact that I have viewed someone’s profile to people who are willing to pay for Upgrades.

It just does.

When I joined LinkedIn years ago I didn’t expect the morphing of its Privacy Policy that has gone on over the years to the point where it resides today:

Maintaining your trust is our top priority, so we adhere to the following principles to protect your privacy:

We protect your personal information and will only provide it to third parties: (1) with your consent; (2) where it is necessary to carry out your instructions; (3) as reasonably necessary in order to provide LinkedIn features and functionality to you; (4) as we reasonably believe is permitted by law or regulation; or (5) as necessary to enforce our User Agreement or protect the rights, property, or safety of LinkedIn, its Members, and the public.

Maybe a sixth caveat should be added:

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(6) when a third party is willing to pay for it

As when it promises, in its LinkedIn Premium upgrade package, to give you “90 days of details on Who’s Viewed Your Profile and how they found you.”

Am I the only one scratching my head over this seeming contradiction?

[Editor’s Note: I’ve talked via email and phone messages today with LinkedIn about this article (many times!). I told them they definitely can write a rebuttal any time, but in the meantime, their main point, which is one I wanted to post here, is this (I’m pasting straight from LinkedIn’s email to me): “Any member (free or paid) who changes their settings to ‘totally anonymous’ will appear to all members (free and paid) whose profiles they’ve viewed as ‘LinkedIn member, this member chose to be shown as anonymous.’”  — Todd]

Maureen Sharib has been a “Socratic sourcer” her entire sourcing career; from the moment she first picked up the faxed list of Silicon Valley high-tech companies that was her target list to “phone source” in 1996 to today she has instinctively followed this method of investigative sourcing using (mostly) the telephone.  She is a proponent of sourcing as a synonym for success and envisions the craft moving away from a dangerously drudgery-paced life-form existence to an exciting investigative/competitive place within organizations where practitioners co-exist within a framework of market research, human resources, and C-level future planning. She owns the phone sourcing and competitive intelligence firm, Inc. You can contact her at Maureen at or call her at (513) 646-7306.  If she’s not on the phone she’ll pick up!


16 Comments on “LinkedIn Privacy Is a Contradiction In Terms

  1. The answer is found here: “(4) as we reasonably believe is permitted by law or regulation;”

    Of course, there is some irony in wanting to be able to see someone’s profile without them knowing it. How does that square with privacy protection? You want privacy in how you covertly view other people’s information?

  2. LinkedIn does provide a solution: If you upgrade, you have the choice of NOT letting people see that you’ve viewed their profile. Of course, that means LinkedIn is generating income from both parties, in a sort of game of one-upsmanship.

  3. As is with most current online recruiting solutions and thus why, 19 years since the introduction of job boards, they still haven’t achieved a 20% market penetration.

    The need is to give professionals complete control of their privacy while still enabling recruiters to engage with the right professionals when the opportunity is present.

    I don’t mean to plug here, but this is what we started booyango(dot)com to solve.

  4. I think your question largely depends on your definition of “personal information” Maureen. Does “personal information” include which profiles you have viewed? I do not think so. I suppose that could be left up to some interpretation, but I see no clear violation of LinkedIn’s privacy policy by allowing members to know who viewed their profile.

  5. Thanks, Mighty Mo. I’ve said it before:
    You should assume anything you ever do online will be available for someone to use as they wish at any time for any reason or none, with or without your permission, and with or without compensation. The less wealth and power you have, the less you’ll be able to limit this. I think “The Prisoner” was very prescient in this over 45 years ago:

  6. This all seems be going in the direction of “if it’s online, consider it open information for anyone to see.” I read a comment from a recruiter on another network and he said, “passwords and privacy aside, I can see and read anything you have out there no matter how private you think it is. I can get behind all your private information on FB, LI, and Twitter.” He is NOT a known hacker, he is a recruiter. Is he bluffing? If he full of himself, or are his claims real? I also read somewhere that the IRS is now using L.I. to determine if people are lying on their taxes – that’s a big “oh, dear?” moment for some.

  7. I understand there’s some confusion as to my remark that LinkedIn “sells the fact that I have viewed someone’s profile to people who are willing to pay for Upgrades.”

    Maybe I’m saying it incorrectly but here’s what I mean:

    If you do not have an Upgraded Account (you’re willing to pay money) you DO NOT have the ability to see who has viewed your profile.
    If you do pay money (you purchase something LinkedIn is selling – an upgraded account) then:

    WA-LA! You DO have the ability to see who’s viewed your profile.

    It’s a part of their marketing to get people to upgrade.
    Go here:

    and you’ll go to their marketing” page that states:
    “Here’s a tour of the exclusive features available only to Premium Account holders”
    5 boxes over is the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” box.
    Click on it and they demonstrate the ability to be able to see “who’s viewed your profile.”

    I don’t know what else to call it but “selling.”

  8. Mighty Mo (I’ll copy that today)

    I get regular notices that Hayim Yuk and all his friends have viewed my profile and I don’t pay them anything.

    Maybe as (Animal Alumnus) Jason Ginsburg says: you pay them so the other guy doesn’t know you’ve been ogling his Linked pic.

  9. Why does it bother you that people know that you looked at their profile? Anyone can look at anyone’s profile. That’s the point of the entire system. Looking at someone’s profile doesn’t imply anything. There are many reasons why you might click to someones profile. Why would you look at someone’s profile and not want them to know that you looked? Maybe you’re checking out your ex’s profile and you don’t want him to know that you’re checking up on him. Or maybe you’re a recruiter and you determined that you really arent interested in this person, so you don’t want them to see that you looked and infer that you are interested. Is someone knowing that you looked really that big of a problem? As said before, nothing on the internet is private.

  10. Thanks, Todd. After I left the comment, I asked the question on the Boolean Strings Chat and Twitter.

    The answers I got in both places told me:

    1. That you do see more people who have viewed your profile when you upgrade your account.

    2. This is still limited by the privacy settings of the people who are looking at you.

    If their privacy setting is high, you are just going to see Anonymous.

  11. Maureen: Good to see you look at this. Not at all surprised at their response. It’s just what I was thinking as I was reading.

    I believe the net-net here is that LinkedIn’s leadership and it’s founders (Reid Hoffman, et al) are only interested in generating revenues for their shareholders, but more importantly, for themselves.

  12. Hold the phone here folks. I’m as cynical as the next person (OK, maybe as 3 people combined), but Linked In is INTENDED to be a vehicle for learning more about other professionals. It is a SOCIAL site with a business point of view. Moreover, we use it voluntarily – we opt IN to see and be seen.

    We’re also very much aware that they have monitzed various levels of information access. They’ve never tried to hide that fact.

    This all fits the mold of tempest in a teacup, much ado about nothing. If you don’t like how Linked In operates then don’t use it and/or build your better mousetrap.

  13. @ Todd: Doubt you’re as cynical as I am, but at any rate….
    LI is a (near)monopoly for what it offers. It knows that and squeezes us accordingly. We grumble, but there isn’t much more we can do about it for now or for the near future…

    Happy Friday,


  14. I absolutely LOVE this feature! It has to be one of my favorites LI offers. Why? Because as an in-house recruiter, I’ve HIRED people who have viewed my profile. To me, that’s an indicator someone is looking. I look at who has looked at me, and if they’re a fit—BAM! I call them. I’ve hired 2-3 using this mechanism.

    In fact, I wish there was more detail. It’s a great feature and a great tool LI provides.

    As a corporate recruiter, we should embrace it. I don’t see how it violates LI’s mission really. In fact, I wish FB would offer something similar, or Twitter.


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