It’s ok to scrape data from public profiles on LinkedIn, a US court has ruled.

Microsoft, which acquired LinkedIn last year for $26.2 billion, was seeking to prevent a startup called HiQ Labs collecting LinkedIn profile data which it uses to create algorithms to predict employee behaviour, like when they might quit.

A US federal judge disagreed, and on Monday ordered LinkedIn to remove any technology preventing HiQ from accessing public profiles within 24 hours.

HiQ Labs has been in business since 2012 but in May LinkedIn sent it a cease and desist letter and stated it was deploying blocking technology to prevent its automated data collection.

HiQ to returned fire by suing LinkedIn for restricting its access to public profile data.

This week the Northern District of California granted HiQ Labs’ request for a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn to prevent using legal or technological measures to restrict HiQ’s access to publicly available LinkedIn profile information.

According to Reuters, LinkedIn plans to challenge the decision.

“This case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn,” a spokesperson said.

In his ruling, Judge Edward Chen said siding with LinkedIn “could profoundly impact open access to the Internet.”

Whose data is it anyway?

The case examines the role of data analytics companies selling insights derived from data hosted by other online services.

HiQ Labs called it an important victory for any company that uses publicly available data for the services it provides.

“HiQ believes that public data must remain public, and innovation on the internet should not be stifled by legal bullying or the anti-competitive hoarding of public data by a small group of powerful companies,” the company said in a statement.

The data company pointed out it doesn’t analyse private sections of LinkedIn and its doesn’t republish or sell the data it collects. It uses it as the basis for analysis provided to employers.

For its part, LinkedIn argues the data scraping threatens the privacy of LinkedIn users, “because even members who opt to make their profiles publicly viewable retain a significant interest in controlling the use and visibility of their data.”

The judge pointed out LinkedIn had allowed the data scraping to occur for five years and hadn’t presented any evidence of harm, financial or otherwise caused by HiQ’s activities.

“HiQ unquestionably faces irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, as it will likely be driven out of business.  The asserted harm LinkedIn faces, by contrast, is tied to its users’ expectations of privacy and any impacton user trust in LinkedIn,” Chen’s judgement reads.

“However, those expectations are uncertain at best, and in any case, LinkedIn’s own actions do not appear to have zealously safeguarded those privacy interests.”

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