LinkedIn Urges Judge To Toss 'Add Connections' Lawsuit

LinkedIn is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania resident Branton Lea, who says the social networking service wrongly uses his name and photo in email campaigns promoting its Add Connections feature.

In a complaint filed in January, Lea alleged that LinkedIn promoted “Add Connections” by sending emails to his contacts indicating that he used the feature. Lea, who is seeking class-action status, says that LinkedIn is violating a California law that prohibits companies from using people's identities for commercial purposes without their consent.

But LinkedIn argues in papers filed late last week that Lea consented to the site's use of his name and image by accepting the company's terms. “The User Agreement and Privacy Policy unambiguously demonstrate that LinkedIn members, including plaintiff, gave LinkedIn permission to use their information and content in the very manner Plaintiff challenges,” the company argues in papers filed with U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, Calif.

LinkedIn adds that its privacy policy says the company may use people's “information and content for invitations and communications promoting our service that are tailored to the recipient.”

The company also argues that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that Lea didn't allege that he suffered any economic injury or other tangible harm.

LinkedIn says in its papers that Lea's lawsuit appears similar to an earlier case challenging Facebook's promotions of its “FriendFinder” service. The complaint in that case -- brought by Robyn Cohen and other Facebook users -- centered on allegations that Facebook's FriendFinder tool violated a California law that bans companies from using names or photos in ads without people's consent.

FriendFinder searched people's email contacts to determine which ones were on Facebook and then suggested them as friends. Cohen and the other users alleged that Facebook wrongly promoted FriendFinder by displaying members' names and photos in ads to their friends.

Facebook prevailed in that matter in 2011, when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg ruled that Cohen and the other users had not shown they were injured by FriendFinder. Absent some tangible harm, the users did not have "standing" to proceed in federal court, Seeborg ruled.

In 2013, LinkedIn was hit with a separate lawsuit alleging that it scrapes users' address books and then sends a series of email invitations to their friends. The company said in recent court papers that it has reached a settlement of that matter, but the terms haven't yet been made public.

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