Judge Approves LinkedIn's $13 Million Settlement Over Email Invites

A federal judge signed off this week on a deal that requires LinkedIn to pay $13 million for allegedly misappropriating users' identities by sending email invitations to their friends.

The final version of the settlement calls for the social networking service to pay around $20 each to approximately 440,000 users, according to court papers filed earlier this month. Koh also awarded the attorneys who brought the case $3.25 million in fees.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California wrote that the deal was acceptable for several reasons, including the "risks, expense, complexity, and likely duration of further litigation."

Koh added: "Any litigation outcome would be subject to potential appeals, which would have (at best) substantially delayed any potential recovery."

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She noted that the $13 million total settlement is larger than other privacy settlements, including Google's $8.5 million settlement of a lawsuit accusing it of leaking the names of people who use the company's search engine.

Koh's decision to grant the deal final approval resolves a lawsuit dating to September of 2013, when a group of LinkedIn users accused the company of violating the federal wiretap law by “hacking” into their email accounts, in order to harvest their friends' addresses.

The users also alleged that LinkedIn misappropriated their names and identities by sending a series of three email invitations to their friends. The users acknowledged that the company asked them for permission to grow their networks, but said the service gave only “cryptic disclosures” before harvesting email addresses and sending invitations.

Koh narrowed the case in 2014, when she rejected the hacking claim on the grounds that the users agreed to transmit an initial email invitation to their friends. But she allowed the consumers to proceed with claims regarding the two follow-up emails.

The settlement also requires LinkedIn to revise some of its prior practices. Among others, LinkedIn will change the disclosures it makes when asking people to grow their networks via the automated “Add Connections” feature. Now, the company will explicitly state that its “Add Connections” tool imports people's address books. LinkedIn also will let people who use Add Connections wield more control over which contacts receive the automated invitations and follow-up emails.

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