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'Dads from the Midwest' pull down their email-spaffing LinkedIn plugin

After social network for suits threatens suit

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A controversial browser plug-in that offered to reveal LinkedIn users’ private email addresses has been withdrawn by its developers, at least for now.

Sell Hack added a “Hack In” button to LinkedIn profiles, which sometimes (but not always) displayed email addresses that supposedly allowed users to contact LinkedIn users directly by email. The behaviour of the app unsurprisingly earned the ire of LinkedIn's lawyers, who sent a cease-and-desist letter.

This is a sensitive topic for the business- and career-focused social network, not least because it's lately been fighting a lawsuit over allegations that LinkedIn itself "hacks" into members' email addressbooks before spamming out marketing emails.

Sell Hack actually uses a combination of publicly available information and guesswork to come up with the email addresses it displays rather than lifting registered email addresses from LinkedIn's systems, as its name might imply.

LinkedIn spokeswoman Krista Canfield explained that “no LinkedIn data has been compromised and Sell Hack is not the result of a security breach, bug or vulnerability.”

Sell Hack has been available for two months but only came to widespread attention after Yahoo! Tech columnist Alyssa Bereznak wrote up what she described as a "sneaky tool" on Monday, lighting the fuse on an ongoing controversy in the process.

In a blog post, Sell Hack devs confirmed that they had received an injunctive letter from LinkedIn while boasting that "we had more signups today [Tuesday] than in our first 60 days combined" and clarifying that the plug-in no longer works on LinkedIn pages.

"We are building a better product that does not conflict with LinkedIn’s TOS," the developers said. "We’ve been described as sneaky, nefarious, no good, not ‘legitimate’, amongst other references, by some. We’re not. We’re dads from the Midwest who like to build web and mobile products that people use."

Net security veteran Graham Cluley was unimpressed by this explanation or hints that Sell Hack's developers might be interested in extending their technology to other social media sites.

"The 'dads from the Midwest' who make up the Sell Hack Team might do well to be a little more transparent if they release new versions of the tool, and be clearer about what they are doing and what they aren’t doing, if they want to gain the trust of internet users," Cluley writes.

"It remains to be seen if LinkedIn will ever look kindly on a service which put a 'Hack in' button every one of their over 200 million active user accounts," he added. ®

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