Craigslist Sides With LinkedIn In Battle Over Users' Data

Listings service Craigslist is backing LinkedIn in a fight with startup HiQ Labs over scraping.

Website operators "have every right to employ technological measures" to block scraping by outside companies, Craigslist argues in a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Craigslist's involvement marks the latest twist in a legal battle between HiQ and LinkedIn dating to July, when the companies' fight over users' data landed in court.

HiQ scrapes LinkedIn's publicly available pages, analyzes the information to determine which employees are at risk of being poached, and then sells its findings to employers. In May, LinkedIn demanded that HiQ stop scraping data from the service, and took technical measures aimed at blocking HiQ. The data itself remained publicly accessible.

HiQ then sued LinkedIn for allegedly acting anti-competitively, and sought an injunction requiring LinkedIn to stop blocking HiQ.

LinkedIn countered that it has the right to control its servers, and that HiQ was disregarding LinkedIn users' privacy. The social networking service said more than 50 million people have used its "do not broadcast" tool, which enables users to change their profiles without having other users notified of the revision.

LinkedIn also argued that HiQ's scraping violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, an anti-hacking law that prohibits companies from accessing computer servers without authorization.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California sided with HiQ and granted the company's request for an injunction. He ruled that HiQ's business could suffer "irreparable harm" if prevented from accessing publicly available information about LinkedIn's members.

LinkedIn recently asked appellate judges to lift that order. Craigslist, which has also battled outside companies over the data on its site, argues in its friend-of-the-court brief that Chen's ruling "has the potential to negatively impact the ability of a wide range of website owners, including craigslist, to protect their users, websites, and businesses through both technological and legal means."

The company adds that website operators need "potent legal tools" like the anti-hacking law to protect users.

"Publicly available websites, such as those operated by craigslist, LinkedIn, and others, are targets for bad actors who harm the website owners and users by accessing such websites without authorization and stealing information to use for unauthorized purposes," Craigslist contends.

Craigslist also calls the judges attention to its own fight with 3Taps, which allegedly scraped real estate data in order to help developers mesh Craigslist's apartment listings with Google maps.

Craigslist argued that 3taps violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Law by accessing Craiglist after it blocked visits from 3taps' IP addresses. 3taps allegedly used a proxy server to circumvent the IP block.

"Once 3taps scraped the ads from the craigslist website, they could be relisted elsewhere without the users’ knowledge or consent, and the users lost control over their ads and were negatively impacted," the company writes.

HiQ Labs is expected to file its papers by the end of the month. It's not yet clear whether outside groups will weigh in on HiQ Labs' behalf, but at least one organization previously supported the startup. In August, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation publicly cheered Chen's order against LinkedIn, writing that the anti-hacking law was never intended to apply to companies that gather publicly available data.

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