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Linkedin's terms of service

LinkedIn’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad TOS

Of all of the topics that I see, LinkedIn and its practices has to be one of the most pervasive. On any given day you can find someone praising the platform while another person tears it apart. It is, perhaps, one of the most polarizing topics in the world of contacts and relationships. With over 300 million registered users worldwide, the chances of these conversations changing are pretty slim.

WTF TOS?!

But this past week, I ran into an article that really took things to the next step. Heather Bussing wrote in depth about why she has closed her LinkedIn account. Interestingly, it has little to do with a specific instance and almost everything to do with the company’s terms of service. In Heather’s words, LinkedIn just isn’t valuable enough to her to justify her continued agreement to the TOS:

“I don’t agree with Facebook’s terms of service either, but I continue to use Facebook because I get something out of it that makes taking the risk and waiving my rights almost tolerable, if I don’t think about it too much”

Fair enough, right? But what about those people who do get value out of LinkedIn? It would stand to reason that LinkedIn would want to be integrated with every business contacts platform…right?

Not So Fast, Developers

The TOS problems don’t stop with LinkedIn members. There are also some serious issues with the company’s developer platform and Partner Programs. As Nutshell CRM found out, even playing by LinkedIn’s own rules doesn’t mean that your company will be safe. After taking painstaking effort to make certain that they were abiding by LinkedIn’s rules, Nutshell got a slap in the face after LinkedIn quietly changed their terms:

After a review, we believe that your product(s) (Nutshell CRM) violates LinkedIn’s API Terms of Use. In accordance with Section I.C, you are required to be accepted into a LinkedIn Partner Program in order to use our APIs for applications that are “used for hiring, marketing, or sales.”

What was Nutshell trying to do? The company was helping salespeople to tie a prospect to a LinkedIn profile. Essentially, Nutshell was saying “Hey LinkedIn, your data is great, and we want to show that to people.” If anything, one would think that finding that kind of data would drive even more users to LinkedIn, but that didn’t seem to matter. According to a further quote to Nutshell from LinkedIn’s API team:

At this time, LinkedIn is not taking on new partners in the Sales category. We are looking at ways to support these types of integrations in the future, but cannot do so today. As a result, we see no path forward for you to continue using our APIs at this time.

Because Screw You, That’s Why

The gist here is simple – If you don’t like it, you can leave. But don’t expect to take much with you. For companies who want to display LinkedIn data, the options are extremely limited. For individuals who want to close their accounts, they might as well forget about taking their contacts with them.

Oh sure, LinkedIn offers an export of your contacts. It packs them all up into a nice, neat CSV…that’s almost useless. All of that information about your contacts, where they work, what they’ve done and the like? You get none of it. What do you get in that CSV then?

[getImage id="" class="size-large wp-image-8083" src="/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/427387120_b3c338e4bd_z-620x389.jpg" width="620"] Image Credit: Ella’s Dad, via Flickr

First name, last name, email, title, company…and that’s it.There are columns for all sorts of information. Things like business phone, assistant’s name, spouse’s name and any notes that you’ve made on the contact. But you can’t have those. Those apparently only belong to you as long as you’re using them inside of LinkedIn.

What’s worse is that you absolutely can’t get the rest of that information either, because it’s against the TOS. The only viable option for exporting your data is LinkedIn’s CSV. Anything else? That’s covered here, in section 10.2.20 of the terms of service (which you obviously read, right? Right?!):

10.2. Don’t undertake the following:

20. Collect, use, copy, or transfer any information, including, but not limited to, personally identifiable information obtained from LinkedIn except as expressly permitted in this Agreement or as the owner of such information may expressly permit

The Lockdown Is Real

The Internet is great because it is open. It is built on the idea of open and clear communication between people, sites and platforms. But increasingly, we’re seeing networks choose to build their walls higher than ever before. They’re not doing this in hopes that you won’t want to leave, but rather with the knowledge that Heather applied to Facebook – staying there is “almost tolerable, if I don’t think about it too much”.

Here’s what we think you should do – Export your LinkedIn contacts (or at least the insulting amount of information that they’ll give you). Collect them all where it makes the most sense. If that’s iCloud, Google Contacts, Outlook.com or heck, even FullContact, great. Obviously we’d prefer that you use us,  but the main thing is to make sure that you get them in a place where the data belongs to you and not someone who wants to keep it under lockdown.

Your data should be your data. Stop letting others decide how you build and maintain relationships.

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