Supreme Court Asks hiQ To Respond In Battle Over Data Scraping

The Supreme Court has asked analytics company hiQ Labs to respond to LinkedIn's request for intervention in a battle over data scraping.

The request for a response is seen as signaling that at least one of the court's judges is interested in the three-year-old battle between the Microsoft-owned social networking platform and hiQ -- a company that gathers data from LinkedIn's publicly available pages, analyzes the information to determine which employees are at risk of being poached, and sells the findings to employers. The Supreme Court rejects the vast majority of requests for intervention, but the court's decision to ask for a response increases the likelihood it will take the case, according to a July 2018 analysis by Bloomberg Law

The court battle dates to 2017, when LinkedIn demanded that hiQ stop scraping data about users. LinkedIn claimed the scraping violates the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act -- a 1986 law that makes it illegal to access computer services without authorization.

hiQ sued LinkedIn after receiving a cease-and-desist letter. The analytics company claimed that LinkedIn was acting anti-competitively, and also sought a declaratory judgment that scraping the site doesn't violate the anti-hacking law.

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 about the revision.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California sided with hiQ and granted the company a preliminary injunction, ruling that its business could suffer irreparable harm if it couldn't access publicly available data.

LinkedIn then appealed to the 9th Circuit, where the company argued it is entitled to protect the data on its servers, and that hiQ has no valid antitrust claim.

The 9th Circuit sided with hiQ, ruling that its scraping probably didn't violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because LinkedIn profiles are not password-protected.

LinkedIn then asked the Supreme Court to review that ruling. Among other arguments, LinkedIn says the outcome of the battle will affect users' ability to control access to their data.

“The decision below has extraordinary and adverse consequences for the privacy interests of the hundreds of millions of users of websites that make at least some user data publicly accessible,” LinkedIn wrote in its petition for review. “Users do not expect, or consent to, the exploitation of their personal information in perpetuity by third parties that the users and the website owner did not authorize and whose interests are not aligned with the interests of the owners of that personal information.”

The Supreme Court has given hiQ until May 26 to file a response.

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