Users Win Round Against LinkedIn In Battle Over Email Invitations

LinkedIn users can proceed with a potential class-action lawsuit accusing the company of misappropriating their names by allegedly sending a series of email invitations to their friends, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, Calif. rejected LinkedIn's bid to dismiss the case on the ground that the users consented to send all of the emails. Koh found that the users agreed to transmit an initial email invitation to their friends, but not necessarily two follow-up emails.

“Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that they did not consent to the second and third reminder endorsement emails,” Koh wrote. “It is entirely plausible that a reasonable user would have thought that by agreeing to LinkedIn’s invitation of the user’s contacts to connect, the user authorized LinkedIn to send only one invitation and that further emails would require further authorizations.”

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed last September by four high-profile LinkedIn users, including a former ad sales executive for The New York Times and a film producer in Los Angeles. They alleged that LinkedIn violated California's endorsement law, which prohibits companies from using people's names or images in ads without their permission.

That law was also at the center of a class-action alleging that Facebook's “sponsored stories” ads misappropriate users' identities; Facebook recently agreed to settle the matter for $20 million.

The LinkedIn users said in their complaint that the company asked them for permission to “grow” their networks, but never informed them it would send a series of email invitations to their contacts.

The users also alleged that the social networking service violated a federal wiretap law by “hacking” into their email accounts to harvest their contacts' addresses. Koh sided with LinkedIn on that point, ruling that users were able to “opt out of the harvesting process” before LinkedIn uploaded the information.

The ruling doesn't mean that LinkedIn will lose the lawsuit, but paves the way for the consumers to continue with the case.

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