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LinkedIn U-turns to appease peeved users

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LinkedIn has admitted that it screwed up with its latest tweak to the social-network-for-suits, after the company started using names and photos in third-party advertising.

"Our core guiding value is Members First. And, with regards to the social ads we've been testing, we're listening to our members. We could have communicated our intentions — to provide more value and relevancy to our members — more clearly," wrote LinkedIn's product manager Ryan Roslansky in a grovelling blog post.

The company came under fire for recently changing how it serves up ads via the network by opting everyone in by default, it also tweaked its privacy policy to highlight the shift.

LinkedIn, for its part, did inform its users on 23 June about the imminent overhaul to its service, and added that users could switch aspects of the ad platform off.

However, as the tech rolled out to more users over the past few days, the response to "social ads" has been overwhelmingly negative.

As a result, LinkedIn offered up a minor mea culpa yesterday.

"[W]hat we've learned now is that, even though our members are happy to have their actions, such as recommendations, be viewable by their network as a public action, some of those same members may not be comfortable with the use of their names and photos associated with those actions used in ads served to their network," said Roslansky.

Interestingly, he preferred to call the policy tweak to allow the third-party ads to use its members' names and photos a "test", but it was a different story late last month.

"We’re excited to announce today that we plan to roll out changes to the advertising platform across LinkedIn which will surface actions from your network, like recommendations and company follows. The focus is to deliver ads that are more useful and relevant to you," he said at the time.

As of yesterday, LinkedIn had apparently stopped running photos of its users with the ads.

The company first noted the tweak to its privacy policy to allow third-party ads to run with member photos in early June this year, which perhaps unsurprisingly came a few weeks after its IPO.

Privately held and soon-to-be-floated social networks are scrabbling for ad revenues, which requires them to be a little more creative with their definition of privacy.

"Moving forward, you'll be able to opt out of being mentioned in any of these ads. Most importantly, we do not provide your name or image back to any advertiser when that ad is served," noted LinkedIn's legal director Eric Heath on 13 June.

Indeed, Web2.0 companies that want even a quick sniff of the kind of online ad riches Google sits on, are bigging up similar business models.

They are keen to stress that the advertisers don't get their hands on the personal data of their users and are all insisting they can be "trusted" with how that information is farmed out.

But despite Roslansky's promise that the firm will no longer serve up photos of its members in its ads, LinkedIn has yet to clarify this point in its privacy policy, which still states that pictures will be used.

Respected ID expert Kim Cameron said he was disappointed with LinkedIn's sudden decision to plonk its social graph, which contains 116 million users, into third-party ads.

"I know there are many who think that if Facebook can take the huddled masses to the cleaners, why shouldn't everyone?," he said in a blog post yesterday.

"It seems obvious that the overwhelming majority of people who participate in Facebook are still a few years away from understanding and reacting to what they have got themselves into.

"But LinkedIn's membership is a lot more savvy about the implications of being on the site – and why they are sharing information there. Much of their participation has to do with future opportunities, and everyone is sensitive about the need to control and predict how they will be evaluated later in their career."

Cameron added that he thought LinkedIn was "smart enough to understand" the sensibility of its userbase.

"But apparently not," he said. "And I think it will turn out that many of the professionals who until now have been happy to participate will choke on the potential abuse of their professional information and reputation – and LinkedIn's disregard for their trust." ®

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