LinkedIn May Be Liable for Follow-Up Emails
(CN) - LinkedIn users can pursue claims that the company spammed their email contacts with pesky "reminder" invitations to join the networking site, a federal judge ruled.
Disgruntled users sued LinkedIn last September, claiming it hacked into their external email accounts, harvested their contacts and then barraged those contacts with promotional spam.
LinkedIn urged U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif., to dismiss the federal class action, saying the users explicitly consented to the challenged actions by clicking through a series of permission screens.
The company suggested that the class members were perhaps simply "embarrassed" by the repeat invitations they authorized LinkedIn to send to their contacts.
The plaintiffs, including several well-educated professionals, countered that "a few cryptic disclosures on a website" do not give LinkedIn the right to "harvest users' email addresses and broadcast users' persona to hundreds of people."
Koh on Thursday largely agreed with LinkedIn's claim that the permission screens amounted to consent, as a reasonable user would have understood that the site was collecting email addresses from the user's external email account.
LinkedIn also "clearly discloses" its intention to invite those email contacts to connect to the user via LinkedIn, Koh said in her 39-page ruling, which includes various screen shots of LinkedIn's sign-up process.
She granted LinkedIn's motion to dismiss claims for violations of the Stored Communications Act, the Wiretap Act and California's Comprehensive Data Access and Fraud Act.
Regarding the state penal code, Koh said the lawsuit fails to explain how LinkedIn "has circumvented a technical or code-based barrier" when it allegedly "tunnel[s] through any open email program on a user's desktop."
But Koh said the consent granted through permission screens ends with the first invitation and does not necessarily apply to follow-up "reminder emails" - the purported spam that class members say damaged their professional reputations.
"Although the court concludes that plaintiffs have consented to LinkedIn's initial endorsement email, the court finds that plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that they did not consent to the second and third reminder endorsement emails," Koh wrote.
"Specifically, the second and third endorsement emails could injure users' reputations by allowing contacts to think that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join their LinkedIn network."
She allowed the class members to pursue their right-of-publicity and unlawful competition claims against LinkedIn over the second and third reminder emails.
She also gave them 30 days to again amend their complaint, finding no "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive by plaintiffs, repeated failure to cure deficiencies, or undue prejudice to LinkedIn."