LinkedIn, founded by former PayPal employees in 2002, is used mainly for professional networking, and reported more than 200 million registered users in more than 200 countries and territories as of January 2013. It is one of the most profitable companies in the Internet sector, with gross margins of roughly 90 per cent.
Lawsuit claims LinkedIn hacked e-mail contacts of its customers
Lawsuit claims networking website appropriated customers' identities for marketing purposes
Bloomberg in New York
LinkedIn Corp, owner of the world's most popular professional-networking website, has been sued by customers who claim the company appropriated their identities for marketing purposes by hacking into their external e-mail accounts and downloading contacts' addresses.
The customers, who aim to lead a group suit against LinkedIn, asked a US federal judge in San Jose, California, to bar the company from repeating the alleged violations and to force it to return any revenue stemming from its use of their identities to promote the site to non-members, according to a court filing.
"LinkedIn's own website contains hundreds of complaints regarding this practice," they said in the complaint filed on Tuesday, which also seeks unspecified damages.
LinkedIn spokesman Doug Madey said the lawsuit was without merit and the company would fight it.
LinkedIn required the members to provide an external e-mail address as their username on its site, then used the information to access their external e-mail accounts when they were left open, according to the complaint.
"LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e- mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn's servers," they said. "LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users' consent."
LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company's website as "devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!", according to the complaint. Java is a programming language and computing platform released by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Groovy is another language for the Java platform.
The plaintiffs, who are seeking a jury trial, provided a link to the engineer's post.
New Jersey man Jeffrey Barr said in an e-mail that he estimated LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts, inviting them to connect with him on the site.
"Some of the people I hadn't talked to in five to 10 years, including several old girlfriends I had forgotten to delete," he said.
LinkedIn told him he had not unchecked a default setting allowing it to use the e-mails, he said.