Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to opt-out from LinkedIn Social Ads

LinkedIn social ads:
Opt-out by default
Are you the unsuspecting star of a LinkedIn social ad? Probably.

Casual users of the professional networking service may have missed the recent, low-key launch of this program, which automatically casts members as participants -- without asking.

LinkedIn has made the ‘feature’ opt-out by default, instead of opt-in. Which is their right, I suppose.

In a somewhat defensive post on their blog, they observe:
The only information that is used in social ads is information that is already publicly available and viewable by anyone in your network.
Sure. But this isn’t a very polite way to act.

Opting out of LinkedIn’s Social Ads with a single click -- or five 
The LinkedIn blog claims disingenuously that:
“Most importantly, we made it easy for our members to opt-out of inclusion from all social ads with one click. (Emphasis theirs, not mine).

An experiment: Without looking at the steps below, how many clicks does it take you to find this dialog, and then opt-out from LinkedIn social advertising? 

Use the following sequence to opt-out of LinkedIn social ads, and decide for yourself how many clicks are required:
  1. Hover over the drop-down menu by your name in the top right corner of any LinkedIn screen when you’re logged in. Choose Settings. (Click #1)
  2. View your Account settings by selecting the Account tab (Click #2)
  3. Choose Manage Social Advertising (Click #3)
  4. Uncheck LinkedIn may use my name, photo in social advertising. (Click #4)
  5. Click Save. (Click #5)

I must not be as sophisticated with user interface design as the developers at LinkedIn. Technically, I guess their statement was accurate. But it sure feels like more than one click to me...

If it seems like I’m fixated on the number of clicks, well, it’s LinkedIn that has identified this as the ‘most important’ element -- rather than the fact I have to click at all.

I’ll keep this in mind the next time I get mugged, and the assailant punches me in the face five times -- “That’s ok, it was just one punch.”

Default opt-out is a violation of respect 
While it’s an understandable move to generate revenue, ‘automatic, by-default, opt-out participation’ is not a desirable policy from an optics perspective. Like any other social network, LinkedIn depends on the trust of its members. The appearance of integrity is important.

This current approach is... distasteful. It’s not cool.

Default opt-out is a ploy that Facebook often uses. Cable and phone companies love negative option billing (a practice that is banned in Canada). So there’s plenty of precedent in industry for this behaviour. But is that the company LinkedIn wants to keep, reputationally?

Default opt-out erodes trust. It feels sneaky. It feels like a violation of respect and expectations.

Are people indifferent to this encroachment? I only learned about this myself the other weekend. Not much fuss has been made over this. Yet, if we aren’t vigilant about the information that ‘social’ companies maintain about us, and how they use and monetize that information, where exactly does that lead?

I understand that by participating in social media, we give up control over many aspects of how we are portrayed. We must acknowledge the muddy tension of conflicted agendas.

I’m on Facebook. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Google+. And I write this blog. I’m consciously publishing all this information about myself in these and other public networks for the whole world to see -- so isn’t it hypocritical, even unreasonable of me to expect limits on the spread of that information?

More specifically, did I grant permission to let LinkedIn do what it wants with my info, when I signed up for the service? Absolutely, it’s right there in clause 2b of the User Agreement:
[...] you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, assignable, sublicenseable, fully paid up and royalty-free right to us to copy, prepare derivative works of, improve, distribute, publish, remove, retain, add, process, analyze, use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties. 

It doesn’t take a legal translator to understand the broad, encompassing grasp of the policy...

Haydn Shaughnessey made a sharp observation in Forbes-- perhaps users wouldn’t object to participating in social advertisements, if a cut of the revenue was set aside for them. A fanciful notion, perhaps.

I don’t necessarily begrudge companies selling me as their product. But there’s a (perhaps naive) expectation that any service will at least do me the courtesy of asking my permission first.

Transparency of action is what will earn my trust. I want to control my online identity. As we’ve witnessed by the ‘real names vs. usernames’ controversy, people want to exert control over every facet of how they are represented in the virtual world. Exploiting their social capital -- by, let’s say, putting their names in an advertisement, thereby implying recommendation -- without explicit consent, is an affront.

Whose interests will ultimately prevail? History suggests our corporate overlords have the advantage. But it’s still a dialogue, still an evolving process at the moment. Withdrawal is not a palatable option. You can still exercise every control the networks concede, no matter how obscure or picayune -- or hard to find.

I urge you to do so.

Please share this post if you found it useful, informative, or interesting. (And if it suits your sense of humour, share it via LinkedIn...)

See Also
LinkedIn Passwords Breached