The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center is attempting to weigh in on a high-profile fight between LinkedIn and HiQ over users' data.
"Personal data is central to this case even though users are not represented in this proceeding," the privacy group argues in a friend-of-the-court brief.
The organization is asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate a district court judge's order requiring LinkedIn to stop blocking HiQ Labs from accessing publicly available data on the site. "The lower court failed to recognize that a mandatory injunction prohibiting LinkedIn from protecting user profile information would directly harm users’ interests," EPIC says in its court papers.
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. The Electronic Privacy Information Center is also urging the 9th Circuit to lift the injunction. The group argues that companies like LinkedIn should be able to stop the "repurposing" of data provided by users.
"Users likely would have chosen not to create an account with LinkedIn if they had known that their personal data would be acquired by others to build profiles that would be sold back to their employers," the privacy group writes. "The public interest weighs against an injunction that undermines the modern concept of privacy and the specific interests of LinkedIn users."