In January, LinkedIn filed a 17 page complaint targeting unknown defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, a move designed explicitly to force Amazon Web Services to discover, under subpoena, exactly which IP address was associated with the payment records and/or the ISPs connected to those addresses to track down, in the only legal way possible, exactly which defendant, as the suit claimed, created thousands of fake profiles on LinkedIn for the purported purpose of running automated scraping programs. In an amended complaint filed in late March, LinkedIn submitted an amended complaint identifying the discovered Defendants, a common practice in data breach litigation.
That trail of IP addresses, and subsequent amended complaint, identified HiringSolved and its founder, Shon Burton, as being associated with the billing records discovered under subpoena, listed under Burton’s home mailing address in San Francisco. The damages claimed by LinkedIn, to quote Nicole Greenberg Strecker, Esq. in her post on the original filing, include, in layman’s terms, “various allegations to the disruption of the accuracy and integrity of the site because of the fake profiles, strain[ed] access to servers caused by the scraping programs and the time and resources wasted responding to the Defendant’s activity.”
Accordingly, LinkedIn is seeking an injunction against this barely two year old startup which received its first million dollars in funding only in November, according to its CrunchBase profile, claiming the use of these scraping technologies not only violates copyright and user privacy laws, but that its violation of LinkedIn’s nebulous and ever changing (yet always arbitrary) Terms of Service and sweeping User Agreement.
LinkedIn has long been the technology equivalent, legally speaking, of the Church of Scientology, using scare tactics, deep pockets and comparatively endless resources to bully, harass and intimidate previous start-ups, such as Sell Hack (click here for our coverage on that legal action’s dangerous double standard), hoping that Goliath could crush David with legal fees, intimidation and what amounts to restraint of trade. In that case, Sell Hack was built explicitly to automate a data privacy loophole in Rapportive, the same tool that is responsible for scraping your Google account and suggesting, for example, you connect with relatives and friends who appear in your address book but not in LinkedIn’s user records.
But Hiring Solved is doing something pretty amazing – and pretty important. They’re calling the evil empire on their bluff, and are refusing to settle for LinkedIn’s original “settlement” offer, disclosed by a company insider as being, more or less, either shut up shop or face the endless litigation and exorbitant costs associated with fighting such actions. I spoke on the record with Matt Ekstrom, a co-founder and key executive team member at HiringSolved, about the lawsuit, and the precedent setting stand HiringSolved is taking to combat the money in Mountain View.
“We are fighting, no ifs ands or buts about it, we are full steam ahead fighting it. It’s very clear, to me anyway, and my personal belief that this isn’t about public data or any of the things they mention in the suit. It’s that we’re a competitor in all areas, and that’s already been a threat to their long term growth.”
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We’ll publish the full interview with Ekstrom and analysis of this news, but for now, here are the headlines – and implications – for this suit, which extend way past the niched and nuanced disciplines of sourcing and recruiting.
1. Hiring Solved Is Not Alone In The Way They Utilize LinkedIn. What is unique is they have successfully monetized their solution. Which, by the way, is pretty cool. Check out this review from Dean DaCosta for a peek at the actual product and you’ll see why LinkedIn is rightfully scared of Hiring Solved’s capabilities that extend the kind of aggregated profile search outside of tech and into all industries, verticals and markets. LinkedIn has been able to build to an almost absolute market saturation within the corporate talent acquisition vertical on the strength of their database, but now must compete on price point.
2. LinkedIn Records Are Public, Not Proprietary, Data: Most vendors talking about their “integration” with LinkedIn will point to some specially configured API which allows LinkedIn to turn off the access to that data – and consequently the core functionality of most products reliant on LinkedIn – at any time, with or without notice. And, given those who have spoken off the record about receiving these notices, usually comes well after the fact and via the US Postal Service. What makes Hiring Solved unique is that they are simply indexing publically available information already available to anyone who knows how to do a peel back or X Ray search – this is stuff that would maybe have seemed cool at SourceCon 2008 – but are doing so without LinkedIn’s API. Therefore, they have created a competitive marketplace for LinkedIn data, but by extension, also represent the first test case in which ownership of factual information – like a job title or current employer – will be held against existing case law precedent. If LinkedIn is successful, then they will have created a vertical monopoly on your information – and likely would challenge the existing business models of Google, Indeed, or really any CRM tool on the market.
3. It’s Not HiringSolved’s Fault. LinkedIn recently trumpeted reaching 300 million members, a number which, when questioned, subjected me to the same sort of bullying techniques and arguing over situational minutiae that, let me say, if wasting someone’s time and resources with spurious and specious activity (as HiringSolved is accused of doing in the complaint as a cause for injunction), then I’ve got a fairly well documented test case in my inbox. This company has consistently dodged direct questions about its use of member data, deferred blame to third parties and failed to be a good corporate citizen in their quest for turning your property and their data into shareholder profits – one that this site has long documented, and one that, hopefully, this suit will expose.
The truth is, because Hiring Solved isn’t using LinkedIn’s core platform or API to aggregate their records – they’re using data that’s publically available. And any trained sourcer could easily obtain any information that they are claiming is proprietary (only, that is, if it doesn’t help their traffic and usage statistics, as SEO is wont to do). That means that, should LinkedIn triumph – which, they well may, considering the favorable venue and billions in potential resources to achieve nothing more than a pyrrhic victory – they’re also claiming responsibility for the misallocation, misuse and data breach (not to mention international privacy and Safe Harbor laws) of 300 million individual people, because they are on record as stating that registrants and active users are, essentially, the same, at least to your HR tech buyer and the SEC (unless they’re on mobile, but that’s not the point).
What LinkedIn is saying is that they are single handedly responsible for the largest documented user security breach this side of Snowden, and that’s OK, because that’s just business, and they can use member data – like APIs – however they damn well please. After all, that’s why they have a user agreement to protect them – but certainly not the integrity of a company who claims to put users first, but continually does nothing except violate the trust of those same users. Which might be why they have to rely on sanctioned solutions like their recent Bullhorn integration to at least feign propriety, but turns out, they’ve got some mutual friends – and channel sales opportunities.
Stay tuned, because this is more than a post – it’s a precedent that will, if nothing else, force LinkedIn to finally disclose, on the record, how they store, use, allocate, sell, appropriate and repackage your personal information so that it can be ‘scraped’ into another system like HiringSolved in the first place.