Supposedly-professional social network LinkedIn has responded to criticism over its privacy faux pas with a blog post. The word “sorry” is nowhere to be seen, and neither is any evidence of real change.

LinkedIn users became aware this week that the company had opted them in to its “social advertising” program, whereby their names and photos could be used in advertising if they’d followed a company, “liked” something or taken unspecified “other actions”.

Today’s blog post by LinkedIn’s director of product management Ryan Roslansky, titled “Privacy, Advertising, and Putting Members First”, talks about hearing users loud and clear. It uses the word “trust” three times. It repeats LinkedIn’s justifications. But it does precisely nothing to address people’s actual concerns.

“Let me clarify a few things,” Roslansky writes, before repeating the assertion that LinkedIn did notify people through a blog post and banner advert, that they don’t share personal information with third parties — was that ever the question? — and that it was easy for people to opt out.

At this point I must thank Ian Bogost for his essay “Gamification is bullshit” — a subject I’ve written about at Technology Spectator — for introducing me to philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s treatise “On Bullshit“. Bogost writes:

“We normally think of bullshit as a synonym — albeit a somewhat vulgar one — for lies or deceit. But Frankfurt argues that bullshit has nothing to do with truth. Rather, bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.”

LinkedIn’s response is bullshit.

The bullshit starts in the headline and the words “Putting Members First”.

Members’ complaints centred on the lack of notification and the need to opt out. If LinkedIn was actually putting members first, they’d have made social advertising opt-in rather than opt-out, putting members in control of any changes to their privacy settings. There’d now be a clear commitment to make all future changes opt-in.

In LinkedIn was actually putting members first, they’d have emailed them individually with a clear explanation of the changes, not relied on them seeing a blog post or realising a banner ad was an important privacy change rather than a product plug. There’d now be a clear commitment to a specific improvement in communication. LinkedIn’s response fails to materially address either of these complaints.

The bullshit continues in the claim that “we made it easy for our members to opt-out of inclusion from all social ads with one click”. Sorry, LinkedIn, I can count. “Settings” then “Account” then “Manage Social Advertising” then the checkbox then “OK” is five clicks, and that’s assuming they’re already logged in. Fibbers.

The only change that LinkedIn has committed to is the appearance of the social advertising. The ads will now just show a link, “three people in your network follow Company X on LinkedIn”, rather than showing their photos at that point.

This continues to imply that a follow is an endorsement, but that’s the core bullshit of social advertising and a topic for another time.

“Trust is the foundation upon which the LinkedIn platform is built. We’ll continue to work hard to earn and maintain your trust, while delivering the most valuable and relevant experience we can,” Roslansky writes.

Sure. But not too hard, eh?

If you’re a LinkedIn user and want to opt out of social advertising, go to where your name is displayed on the top right of your LinkedIn screen and click on “Settings”. Click on “Account” at the bottom left of screen, then “Manage Social Advertising”.

*Disclosure: Stilgherrian receives a free LinkedIn Pro account as part of their media outreach program. He has not deleted it … yet.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey