US Supreme Court revives LinkedIn bid to shield personal data

Platform News: LinkedIn

The US Supreme Court gave Microsoft Corp’s LinkedIn Corp another chance to try to stop rival hiQ Labs Inc from harvesting personal data from the professional networking platform’s public profiles – a practice that LinkedIn contends threatens the privacy of its users.

The justices threw out a lower court ruling that had barred LinkedIn from denying hiQ access to the information that LinkedIn members had made publicly available.

At issue is whether companies can use a federal anti-hacking law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorization, to block competitors from harvesting or “scraping” vast amounts of customer data from public-facing parts of a website.

The justices sent the dispute back to the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider in light of their June 4 ruling that limited the type of conduct that can be criminally prosecuted under the same law. In that case, the justices found that a person cannot be guilty of violating that law if they misuse information on a computer that they have permission to access.

The LinkedIn case underscores the increasing importance of personal data on the internet and the ability of companies to profit from that information, while raising questions over who can control and use an individual’s data – and for what purpose.

Related Article:
Microsoft's attempt to acquire TikTok endears old company to new generation

LinkedIn, which has more than 750 million members, told hiQ in 2017 to stop scraping LinkedIn’s public profiles or face liability under the anti-hacking law.

For its part, hiQ uses the data for products that analyze employee skills or alert employers when they could be looking for a new job. It said LinkedIn issued the threat around the same time LinkedIn announced a similar service to hiQ’s.

It sued in federal court, accusing LinkedIn of anti-competitive conduct, and a federal judge in 2017 granted its request for a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn. Explaining its stance, hiQ has said data must remain public and innovation on the internet should not be stifled by anti-competitive hoarding of public data by a small group of powerful companies.

The 9th Circuit in 2019 blocked LinkedIn from cutting off hiQ while the litigation continued, ruling that the law at issue likely does not apply in situations in which no authorization is needed to access the data that users have made publicly available.

LinkedIn told the Supreme Court that hiQ’s software “bots” can harvest data on a massive scale, far beyond what any individual person could do when viewing public profiles.

Related Article:
LinkedIn sued over allegation it secretly reads Apple users' clipboard content

LinkedIn in April said that some of the publicly viewable data of its users had been scraped and posted for sale.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this article. Automatic translation from English to a growing list of languages via Google AI Cloud Translation. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York. Editing by Will Dunham.

You can stay on top of all the latest developments across the platform economy, find solutions to your key challenges and gain access to our problem-solving toolkit and proprietary databases by becoming a member of our growing community. For a limited time, our subscription plans start from just $16 per month. What are you waiting for?

Share this article