If you’re using LinkedIn, you’re probably doing so to connect with peers and colleagues, explore new business relationships, or even network for your next career move. Chances are you didn’t join LinkedIn so you could tell your boss or your colleagues which products or brands you like. But LinkedIn’s new “social advertising” feature does exactly that: it takes your name or photo and connects that to ads that your friends and colleagues see based on your groups, contacts, and personal content. Worse yet, this feature was turned on by default, requiring you to find the right settings to opt out.
To the best of our knowledge, LinkedIn is not sharing information about you with advertisers, as some stories have claimed. Nevertheless, it is taking your name and photo and using them in ways you never expected, without first asking your permission to do so.
Unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t seem to have learned from the privacy missteps of Facebook and others: the worst thing you can do to your users is surprise them with unexpected uses of their data. As the company struggles to find a niche between more casual networks like Facebook and MySpace and job-hunting sites such as Monster, it needs to remember that user trust is one of the most valuable resources it currently possesses, but that trust can disintegrate if users feel that they are losing control of their own personal information.