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LinkedIn is not using email contacts to find people who have an account already (plus.google.com)
320 points by robinjfisher on Feb 21, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

This obsession with collecting users (dead or alive) reminds me of Gogol's Dead Souls - companies trading in users (who may or may not exist) in order to boost their standing and taking out huge loans on the basis of their illusory popularity. Even illusory users can have some value, just like the dead serfs in Gogol's tale, and like the dead serfs, their value is not in their existence, but in being entries on a ledger of chattels.

It doesn't matter to LinkedIn whether these accounts are used or real, because they are judged on basic numbers like how many users they have. Since real money is involved and salaries and careers are riding on this number going up, they'll employ all kinds of perverse and intrusive tricks in order to inflate that number every quarter for as long as it is a measure of success.

Sounds a lot like Google+ at the beginning. "We have 100 million users!!!" Well no, you funneled people using search, gmail, and youtube into some annoying screen where they clicked around to make it go away.

That's not what they did. It should be noted that in the announcements that I've seen, Google has counted only active Google+ users.

This is the "ghost town" ruse all over again. It's weak sauce and demonstrably facile. You can bash Google+ all you want, but it's not going to impress people who enjoy using it very much.


Does "active" Google+ users include people who are logged in and have plus-related stuff-they-don't-care-about in their standard google header? Or people who just reciprocate circle-adds but don't engage whatsoever?

Or even just people who click the bell when it's lit up red to make the notification go away.

Shit I do all those things, I don't even know why...

Engagement hacking!

Good point. "Active" shouldn't be a binary term. It should be more like "active engagement". Technically I'm an "active" user of Google+ but I don't spend more than a minute on there if I can help it.

the last numbers i saw for Google+ usage specified "active in the stream", which isn't incredibly clear but sounds like they mean actually engaging.

http://googleblog.blogspot.ca/2013/10/google-hangouts-and-ph... (at the very bottom)

All of the complaining about ghost towns isn't going to change the fact that G+ isn't going anywhere as long as Google stays as successful as it is right now.

At first I thought you mean that in the same sense that my plans for energy-positive cold fusion aren't going anywhere.

I'd say both interpretations apply.

Did anybody suggest that G+ should go somewhere before you did?

Yes. All of the threads above about ghost town imply that it needs to die off and Google should give it up and get rid of the service since they don't believe it is valuable, hence ghost-town. Ain't happenin'.

I'm sure that Google counts me as an active G+ user (maybe twice or even three times, since I have my normal gmail account, my GAFYD, and the GAFYD for the company I work at).

I think I've re-shared three things over the last three years, commented on maybe twice that, and I'm not sure I've posted a single original post there.

I'm almost completely disconnected from whatever “community” G+ purports to offer, and at least one of the G+ profiles that I have was only created so that I could do hangouts with folks in the company (and we end up using Skype more often anyway).

So yes, it's exactly what Google did.

Don't buy the "x million use the google+ site regularly every month" number. The number of people who actively use g+ is miniscule. Don't believe me? Put a status message on fb and ask how many of them use g+. Or post it on linkedin or email all your contacts.

Pretty much any decent product has a small number of fans. That doesn't make it "successful" by any statistical standards.

The number of people who actively use g+ is miniscule

[citation needed]

Weak sauce, I say. It's readily apparent that they are the #2 social network in terms of actual usage.

Put a status message on fb and ask how many of them use g+

Shall I also ask MySpace users how many of them use G+?

Seriously, that "ghost town" bullshit simply isn't going to fly. It's been done to death, everybody's heard it, and anybody who is actually, you know, active on Google+ laughs at people who repeat it.

Googlers like to think that G+ is one of the biggest social networks. The reason the reported numbers are so high is because now YouTube users have to integrate with G+ and all sorts of Google products funnel users in. These users do one thing, and never use the service again.

Who, other than VCs, actually care about how many folks use a given social network? As long as the people you care to read, and some smattering of other interesting people are on the network, total size doesn't matter.

Metafilter is quite successful, but also very, very small.

It could influence if you use a plus button on your site (to seek virality), if you create a page for your company, etc

Metric-motivated marketing managers, maybe?

Google+ has loads of users who aren't doing that, though. I mean users who are there to use Google+, and not to use YouTube, Google Drive, Gmail, &c.

The reason the misconception is still around is because the group of people laughing about the ghost-towners on Google+ is so small to begin with that the general trend never gets corrected. In other words, because it's true ;)

PS. I think you're using "weak sauce" incorrectly.

I think you're using "weak sauce" incorrectly

Not at all: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=weaksauce

This is spot on. I absolutely love the book, but I've never thought about how connected it is to the chase of user metrics and the likes. Good observation.

Is there any evidence LinkedIn reports all members email contacts as LinkedIn users?

The g+ post just displays OP's confusion at "connect" really meaning "invite" in instances where contacts don't have a LinkedIn account.

It's the struggle to report more and more users every quarter that is damaging; this leads to the concept of users and their contact list as the property of websites and dark patterns like this.

Is there any evidence LinkedIn reports all members email contacts as LinkedIn users?

I have no idea if LinkedIn reports ghost users as real in annual reports but I'm sure they'll report users, and creating ghosts and deceiving users into thinking they are real will increase dramatically the number of signups for them, so it will help their overall stats, even if those people then do nothing with the account after they discover Robin didn't really invite them and should never have been on the site. This cult of collecting users as trophies or even faking them is both damaging to brands and user-hostile; in the long term it will fail and LinkedIn already has trust issues.

The g+ post just displays OP's confusion at "connect" really meaning "invite" in instances where contacts don't have a LinkedIn account.

The LinkedIn page is deliberately deceptive (showing a dead person as a member who can be added to someone's network), in an attempt to goose their stats and get more signups. There's no confusion here, and I'm surprised that you'd try to characterise it as that, deception might be a better word. If it means invite, it should say invite, and it should be presented as sending an email to a harvested contact, not inviting an already current LinkedIn member. This kind of dark pattern is where you end up if you trust certain metrics blindly and always make the modification which incrementally increases your metric (say user signups), regardless of other consequences. It is clearly designed to deceive.

None whatsoever, the OP is making a gigantic leap based on a logical fallacy.

LinkedIn claims X number of users

Suggested connections by LinkedIn can be generated for users that do not even have a present LinkedIn account.

Therefor, the number X must include those users.

You're using logical fallacy wrong. At best this is a logical error, not a clasifiable fallacy.

But it's far more likely that it's just an error of judgement, involving no formal or informal logic at all.

Namely, nobody, including OP, made the syllogism you present, with the neat "therefore, X must include" etc step.

They simply thought that it's very probable that this is what LinkedIn did to inflate their numbers.

Neither the article nor the title actually talk about inflating numbers, which is how I read it at first too. They only talk about actually increasing the number of users, by sending out invites: "Another example of the lengths LinkedIn will go to in order to increase its user base."

> You're using logical fallacy wrong.

Actually it's a wonderful example of affirming the consequent.

Had the initial accusation been "LinkedIn possibly using ..." this might carry some wait, but it was all presented in declaration as proof.

In this post, there is no claim that LinkedIn is claiming in any reported numbers the ghost users that it presents to people who allow it to import their contacts.

So what you have done here is called the straw man fallacy.


"[...]LinkedIn is misrepresenting who has an account and does this to entice such people to create one when they receive a 'would like to connect' email. In doing so, it misleads its users into thinking they are connecting with people who already use the service."

is the easily sustained claim.

They are not reporting these to investors as accounts. Every time someone that knows someone else hits the connect button, it gives LinkedIn another opportunity to spam that user on their behalf - pummeling them until they sign up. This is an aggressive (though somewhat scummy) growth strategy, not an investment fraud strategy.

It's not important whether they report ghost users as real because they serve their own purpose - to trick people into spamming contacts and trick contacts into signing up, at which point they are counted. Growth is not always good.

Not saying that the "dead souls" trend isn't real, but I don't actually think these accounts themselves are what LinkedIn is using to boost their user numbers. The goal for the dead souls is to boost activation by getting more and more real people to create accounts. Still the same motivation, but I doubt their long-term goal is to be counting tons of fake users as users. It's sooner to find new (potentially scam-y) ways to trick people into making accounts.

I didn't mean to imply that, but rereading the post I see why people have read it that way. That wasn't really the objection I have to this, more that a focus on user numbers growing at all costs leads to all sorts of evil activity like using ghost users to try to trick people into spamming their contacts list.

"Since real money is involved and salaries and careers are riding on this number going up, they'll employ all kinds of perverse and intrusive tricks in order to inflate that number every quarter for as long as it is a measure of success."

Isn't this also true for most startups?

> "LinkedIn allows you to sign in to your email account and it will scan your contacts..."

Hand my contacts list to a website? No thank you. When is letting a website have this a good idea, not just Linkedin, but ever?

There was a time when LinkedIn would often require you to re-enter you login details, seemingly at random. Login details consist, of course, of your email address plus a password, and so if you used the site much you kind of got used to entering them in every time they were requested.

The login form, unsurprisingly, looked very similar to the one suggesting that you give LinkedIn your email address plus you email account password. When I first noticed this, I thought that, for people who re-use passwords, this was an accident waiting to happen. I'm sure people must have been caught out by this.

I was very tempted to submit this to darkpatterns.org, but the first part of the pattern (frequent re-authentication) doesn't happen any more.

LinkedIn deploys dark patterns left and right. I can't think of any more scammy site in widespread use today.

I'm the same -- I never allow websites to riffle through my contacts, and would certainly never give up access to my email account to do it.

However, mobile apps have a much easier time of it. Looking at the contacts stored on one's phone is just one of the many permissions they request, and users are conditioned to just click past that screen anyway.

I never would either. Problem is, it's possible I may have accidentally done it in the past, possibly when I was tired and thought it was about something else.

Did I? Can I undo it? No idea. Linkedin is quiet about it, and it looks like it can't be undone.

Once information has been transmitted away from your device, it can never be undone. At best you might stop it from sharing future deltas, but once somebody has your data they will always have it as far as you can ever know.

By mobile you mean Android. In IOS, apps needs to explicitly ask the user to access the contacts after installing the app.

Ha, yes, yes I mean Android. I'd heard there was another mobile OS out there, but haven't ever used it.

So I wonder if there's a measurable difference in the Linkedin graphs of iOS and Android users as a result of this? I guess only Linkedin knows...

Well, technically iOS only implemented the controls in the last year or two after the hubub with Path harvesting contacts:


Anyone reading HackerNews qualifies as technically sophisticated, so I'm curious to ask:

- If you gave your email password to Linkedin or Facebook, did you change your email password immediately afterward?

- Are you very confident that Linkedin and Facebook wouldn't retain your password for future use or do some other mischief?

- Would you do the same thing again today?

This question ("...but ever?") is a good one. How many people balk at sharing their contact list with LinkedIn, and yet install apps from LinkedIn and also WhatsApp, Facebook or PayPal on their phones, all of which access the contact list anyway?

On iOS, at least, it will ask if you want to allow it access to your contacts, and you can just say no.

I'd never install such apps. I once had the Facebook one, long, long ago, but nuked it when the update wanted mic/camera access (and now it wants to read people's SMS on top of that...).

ever may be hyperbole.

An email client has a good use for it. A chat app may too. In the general case, no. It's definitely something to be very wary of.

Completely agree. I don't actually remember doing it and it's certainly something I do not do any more.

I wasn't quite so security-conscious a few years ago.

> I don't actually remember doing it

This probably indicates a dark pattern at work ( http://darkpatterns.org/ ) - it was presented as a quick, default and normal action and/or of little consequence, when actually it's quite invasive.

You said that Linkedin would "scan your contacts to see if those people are on LinkedIn" and this is likely what it is presented as, but actually that information might be retained indefinitely and may be used for other purposes that are thought up later. But hey, it's just metadata, right?

The LinkedIn Android App will periodically ask to scan your Google+ contacts for people you might know on LinkedIn, so if you've ever used that you could have leaked contacts to them that way.

I never gave them password to my gmail account, and yet they somehow harvested an email I never used for anything. I wrote about it here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6935606 . I suspect they stole it from my phone when I installed LinkedIn app (never do it).

As well as being a stupid thing to do, it is usually also a break of the agreement between the user and their mail provider. These usually have a clause stating that you agree to never share your credentials with a 3rd party except where required to by law.

Yeah, and it's really, really bad form on the part of the company to ask for credentials from another service. Not sure why people have accepted this as a "standard" kind of practice when it comes to email accounts (of all things).

Honestly, it's a pity that one of the big email providers doesn't just tell LinkedIn that if they continue to solicit email passwords, especially for the purpose of inducing people into accidentally spamming their entire address book, LinkedIn signup emails will be heading to their users' spambox by default.

(Granted, Google has to be pretty careful about how they act towards rival social networks)

Maybe in corporate email systems, but I've never seen a legal requirement to not share my credentials in any sort of consumer service.

I wouldn't say it was a legal requirement (as a lot of such things have not been tested in court) but I've seen it in a few places, usually in the section about you being responsible for anything that happens with your account.

I think it could be easy to do this accidentally. From the main linkedin page, if I save my username and password (which is my email) the linkedin page automatically fills in the login/password box when I revisit the site.

It also has a separate username/password box for giving it access to your email address. I have never used this feature. However when I visit the site it fills in the second box with the same username and password.

If I used the same password for linkedin and my email account, saved my linkedin password, then all I would need to do is accidentally click the wrong button to send them my email credentials.

I wonder why haven't mail providers implemented a "single time password, only for websites to peek on the contacts list" feature; I presume it's because the concept itself is broken.

They have, it's called OAuth, and it doesn't involve giving sites passwords at all.

OAuth stands for Open Authorisation, not Open Authentication. While OAuth2 is often used for authenticating against other services, it is designed about authorisation, the ability to give other sites the ability to see info from your email account. Usually permissions are set at a modular level, so you could give sites to see who your contacts are, or your contacts and full name, etc.

When is letting a website have this a good idea, not just Linkedin, but ever?


I'm amazed how many people fall for it.

Really surprised by all the comments here. This seems like a solid business decision by LinkedIn, riding the line of what a user is willing to accept and balancing it well with the potential rewards.

Look at every famous company and you'll find tactics that you don't agree with, and sometimes downright illegal (Path).

If you're not willing to do desperate things, to do what is necessary for user acquisition, good luck trying to build a successful business, because pure blind luck is exactly what you'll need.

Stuff like this is what really separates successful businesses from the failures. It was never about some grand vision, or some belief in connecting the world. It was about figuring out how to acquire users, retain them, and monetize.

Really surprised by all the comments here. This seems like a solid business decision by LinkedIn, riding the line of what a user is willing to accept

The comments indicate that the typical HN class of user considers the line to be crossed. Does a service like linkedin really want to upset the HN segment of their user base? Up to them, naturally.

If you're not willing to do desperate things

Yeah, and when linkedin sells all our info because they're "desperate", the only people who will be surprised are fools.

Personally, I feel that if they're resorting to "desperate" measures to succeed, then they don't have a solid business model.

The typical class of HN user is constantly chomping at the bit for something to get outraged about. The number of teapot tempests I have seen here is positively insane. People will get angry and start demanding executives' heads based on nothing more than vague hearsay and a misunderstanding of the law.

I'm sure the broken clock of HN opinion gets it right pretty frequently, but I wouldn't say it has strong predictive power for whether something bad actually occurred.

Their whole business revolves around selling your info. Their primary source of revenue is LinkedIn Recruiter. Is this a bad thing? Not in my opinion.

>Look at every famous company and you'll find tactics that you don't agree with

Most people here recognize that growth hacking is necessary for a startup to grow. The users complain only when the tactics employed do not result in a better experience for them. This was not the case when AirBnB, YouTube, etc executed their growth hacking tactics.

AirBnB: Their growth hacking tactic of posting to Craigslist resulted in a better experience for their existing users. YouTube: Their subtle permission to upload and watch copyrighted videos resulted in a better experience for their existing users.

LinkedIn though, seems to be misleading their existing users. That is why you see plenty of these comments. So, it is not a case of "nerds being nerds" (paraphrased) as someone commented elsewhere in this thread.

"Most people here recognize that growth hacking is necessary for a startup to grow. The users complain only when the tactics employed do not result in a better experience for them."

That's such a gem of insight and wisdom.

How is growing their user base not making the experience better? Most people use LinkedIn to find people, no?

I used to use it to find jobs, but it's no better for that than Craigslist or an ad-mill these days.

If you're not willing to do desperate things, to do what is necessary for user acquisition, good luck trying to build a successful business, because pure blind luck is exactly what you'll need.

Really? There are plenty of companies who don't do "desperate things", and they are successful. At the end of the day, if a company must cross a moral threshold to do business, they should not do business at all. Businesses should not commit ethical violations in the society they operate in.

From their Mission and Core Values:

We operate on the basis of responsiveness, openness, honesty and trust with our members, business partners, employees and stockholders.

I won't quote other parts of it as it would simply hammer home the point - don't openly commit to things like this if your business practices do another.

Just stay quiet.

It's still an ugly, user-unfriendly tactic that potentially causes embarrassment. It's not evil, but nether is it attractive.

Ethically, it is comparable to food that tries to pass itself off as healthy, while treading the line on sugar and salt content, in order to appeal to unwitting customers. It may sell more, but it also deserves a bad reputation.

Each such optimization for the purpose of revenue has a social cost down the line. There is nothing hypocritical about attempting to lay that social cost on the vendor.

Can we simultaneously vilify LinkedIn and other companies that use (some would say morally questionable) growth hacking techniques and appreciate that they're still hungry, doing things that a desperate startup would do?

I find the innovator's dilemma happens when you aren't hungry, or paranoid, or willing to cannibalize your existing product or users.

Posit: There is no other dedicated professional social network that has scaled (>1M users) beyond one vertical/cohort (which excludes networks like HN, Spiceworks, Behance, etc.) except for LinkedIn.

How do you think they got there?

You may not like how the sausage is made, but I had a bacon-wrapped hot dog last night and it was delicious.

I'm not willing to accept shady moves just because you are startup. For one, there is no reason to think you will suddenly develop ethics once you become big company.

Second, I have been mislead the same way in both cases.

I've tried to explain this line of logic previously on HN and my experience is that the majority of the people here live in their own world. Much like people who enjoy reality TV, just more technically savvy.

They babble about how FB decreases audience reach or how they hide their ad targeting instead of realizing the massive opportunity that is presented to the people who are willing to put the work.

They besmirch google for giving rapgenius preferential treatment instead of taking notes and using the precedent.

They revile linkedin for marketing tactics that serve them very well.

In short, the crowd here is mostly nerds with a misunderstood nobility sense, refusing the see the world they are living in for what it is.

Alternative in short - people here are workers, not businessmen.

They babble about how FB decreases audience reach or how they hide their ad targeting instead of realizing the massive opportunity that is presented to the people who are willing to put the work.

You criticize that response like it's a bad thing.

They besmirch google for giving rapgenius preferential treatment instead of taking notes and using the precedent.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

They revile linkedin for marketing tactics that serve them very well.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

In short, the crowd here is mostly nerds with a misunderstood nobility sense, refusing the see the world they are living in for what it is.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Alternative in short - people here are workers, not businessmen/marketers.

You say that like it's a bad thing... oh hold on. You're wrong.

Fair enough... I do think it is a bad thing... for me.

Not everyone is me though, not everyone has the same goals and line of thinking like me. And neither should everyone think like me. I was just pointing out to the "parent" why his resistence is futile.

Well, it's the 'don't be evil' thing. It seems to me that it's perfectly possible to not be evil - until you go from being a nimble startup to a billion dollar business with serious shareholders to impress, rather than a couple of VCs who more or less expect you to fail.

The bigger you get, the closer your girth gets to the legal line. Then - as happened with large parts of the financial system - you have to cross the line just to compete.

'Don't be evil' falls away a long time before that.

So, despite our little contretemps over Paris Hilton, I think I'm with you on this one; it's naive to expect an NYSE listed company with a market cap of $23bn not to screw every last drop of leverage out of its data, whatever the ethics of the matter.

That's because people usually put "morality" over "success of a business, even mine", and that's the world I want to live in. Your world has slaves (they're good business, after all).

No people put morality over "success of other". Most of the time when talking about something convenient, or you own business, people manage to bend their own morality with "rationalisation" or "carefully avoiding looking at the fact".

Our world has slaves.

> No people put morality over "success of other".

I disagree. When was the last time you took some money you saw lying around on someone's table?

Ultimately you can also generalize this. Specifically, there is a tug of war between the company and its users. By and large, the company interests may be served by exploiting as much user data as possible. The user usually sees this a bad. They want the company to be useful but without having to give up and privacy (or other negatives.) The user perspective only impacts the companies interests when enough negatives accumulate to create a negative reputation that stifles growth, but almost all users, ceteris paribus, would prefer the company to be less invasive. So these outrage-fests directed at LinkedIn, Facebook, Path, etc. serve to push back against companies and create the demarcation line between acceptable and unacceptable tactics.

Bullshit. Nerds might grudgingly admire LinkedIn for their clever use of dark patterns. Your average business person gets suckered into the dark pattern and then wonders how they've accidentally pissed off their ex, sales prospect's CEO or rival's legal counsel by trying to "connect" with them. And they're not really any more impressed by growth generated through more-or-less inadvertent signups than they were by Enron's accounting practices.

It's not like ad-targeting, which normal people generally don't care about too much unless the retargeting gets really creepy.

Is there a company for which you're not willing to be apologetic?

Who invited all these wanna be "businessmen" to our site?

The people who built it. The "employee" demographic trickled in later, though it now seems to dominate.

blumkvist's businessman/worker point is something worth keeping in mind when you see people behaving badly here. Back when this was a small group of entrepreneurs, it was all about building each other up and helping. Now that it's mostly people with no skin in the game, it's more about tearing ideas down.

(Note that in both cases, it's an attempt to pull people towards your own camp.)

Alternative in short - some people here are actually hackers

There is the world we live in and the world we help build. They shouldn't be one and the same.

All I see here is a couple of people arguing that playing dirty should be compatible with being prestigious, and to that end suggesting that pushing ethical boundaries is literally synonymous with success. And since 'we' subscribe to a certain lifestyle, 'we' need a different morality from the nearest norm. Well, playing dirty is already prestigious in a lot of circles. What more do you want?

I know I'm a bitch for laughing that an article about Linked In inflating its usage figures is posted on Google+.

The irony wasn't missed. It was just the first place that sprung to mind to write at length on the topic.

Surely the fact it's posted from there indicates that the whole "its a ghost town, they're just lying" meme might be obviously false?

Remember that meme that was going around about social media and donuts? Twitter: I am eating a #donut ... Instagram: Here's a heavily post-processed picture of the donut I just ate ... Facebook: I Like donuts! ... Google+: I am a Google employee who likes donuts!

It's cruel and exaggerated, but like most successful (?) jokes it contains just enough truth.

Why do you posit that?

I've never intentionally shared my contacts with LinkedIn and yet I get shown names from my address book. One was my teenage son and I tried to connect thinking he'd signed up for some reason. Nope, he'd never even considered it.

I don't know where LinkedIn got my contacts from but I suspect I must have missed a setting when I briefly installed the mobile app a few years ago. Some of the email addresses they have are out of date so that adds weight to my theory.

Came here to post the same; after seeing as "people you may know" some email contacts that may not even know what LinkedIn is (such as my mom), I strongly suspect they're doing something even more shady to grab my contacts. I have never installed the mobile app.

It's super-creepy. All you need is someone who has previously emailed or chatted to you via e.g. gmail to give their email address and password to LinkedIn to "find contacts". The seem to go about mining a graph they have constructed using various people's email correspondence/address books, even including contacts via a nameless email addresses you never provided to LinkedIn.

When I signed up I saw a bunch of people I had as contacts on a gmail account which I hardly ever use. I had NOT used said gmail account when signing up for LinkedIn (and no LinkedIn app etc.). They seemed to have somehow associated me with contacts for an email address I had told them nothing about by piecing together the contact lists of the small number of contacts I added on LinkedIn and linked the name in their address books to my unnamed gmail account. I simply don't trust them anymore.

I have seen this too, but I suspect that someone you contacted (or vice versa) allowed their contacts to be shared with LinkedIn. LinkedIn could then use the info from the other person to recommend contacts.

One extremely sly thing they do is send you requests based on who you and other people you know/may know have searched for. If you're in the habit of looking up old colleagues when logged in, even if you're not browsing publicly, they will get you as a suggestion. As a result you may find that random people you almost certainly knew, but aren't in your address book, will be suggested.

The problem I see is that all the effort I put into protecting my contacts from being shared with linkedin, it only takes 1 clueless ex-colleague or friend to do it and my details are out there.

Misrepresentation can be a very serious offence. I'd like to hear LinkedIn's argument for impersonating people who don't use the platform.

Their argument probably contains the following two phrases: "making money" and "that eighty-five page document you agreed to when you signed up."

Less cynically, all they seem to say is "ask this person to connect with you." That doesn't imply that they're using LinkedIn.

A P/E of nearly 1000x, yet falling price? Perhaps some of them still haven't cashed out? So drive this stuff like mad to get another "good" quarter and win?

I have used my Gmail box since early beta, and most definitely, a fraction of people I have ever contacted are no longer alive. There is no way for me or for LinkedIn to determine that. They may use an aggressive strategy to get new sign-ups, but that's just their way of shoveling money. Death is natural and inevitable, and I believe that we must raise people's awareness of it. I'd say deal with it and don't ever let the reality offend you.

Here is a good speculation from xkcd on a related topic: https://what-if.xkcd.com/69/ With it in mind, how valuable would a database of the deceased be in 100 years from now, if we start gathering this data today? For example, mining the internet for history on relatives would probably become a business of it's own, and as a consequence, ancestor's deeds would be much less romanticized than they are today.

I deleted my LinkedIn account last year because I got tired of dealing with spam emails from them and people bugging me to endorse them for skills. I still get emails from LinkedIn telling me someone would like to connect. For a site which is supposed to be about building professional connections I find them horrible to deal with.

I had a traditional, i.e. one that wanted salary history and other non-relevant information, recruiter tell me during a discussion that person x at linkedin says you should provide this information.

This is when I realized that linkedin in not about professional relationship but about recruiting folks and that recruiters will find it most useful.

As I can find a job without a recruiter, linkedin's value to me is close to zero.

Endorsements seem automated to me, and I almost feel like I'm taking crazy pills. Distant cousins endorsing you for Ruby? There's no way they actually clicked that button. I feel like LinkedIn is generating those as well, as a means of getting back on their platform.

Endorsements always seemed a bit off and it wouldn't surprise me if they were automated. I had an ex-colleague repeatedly contact me about endorsing him as he had endorsed me. At that time I hadn't looked at LinkedIn in months so I had no idea why he'd endorsed me. I got the impression that the site had suggested he do it and now obviously I should return the favour. All very annoying and one of the main reasons I closed my account.

I can see how this may confuse people who aren't tech savvy, but as a tech person, I immediately recognise this as a ghost profile. When you see five or six of these amongst the actual profiles, and all of them just so happen to be people from your email, possibly who you haven't spoken to in years, you can put 1 and 1 together and know it's a trick.

Literally a ghost profile, the person is dead.

LinkedIn must have zero empathy for what loss does to people to use such tactics that can cause distress.

Wouldn't it cause the same distress if the deceased person really had had a LinkedIn account? Seems to me that the distress is not caused by the tactics in and of themselves.

Recently deceased is forgiveable. Long-deceased is massively insensitive.

Those suggestions should be restricted to profiles of people recently active that you may know.

Really though, how would they know? How can they know?

Maybe it's not common (at least while most developpers are not in their 80's) and they didn't think of it.

The idea that they are evil people is more appealing, though.

How should anybody know, from an email address alone, if the owner is alive?

Ironic title coming from a post on Google+. In all seriousness though the title is misleading. Its not increasing user numbers, its increasing perceived relevancy, and misleading users into evangelizing its platform.

It's deceiving users into evangelising its platform in order to increase user numbers.

What a load of bull.

Let me tell you a story about John Sculley. Former CEO of Apple ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sculley )

I met John 4 times. He contributed to a charity that I was working with. I didn't think there was any chance he would remember me. Years went by, then I got a linkedin invite from John wanting to connect.

John Sculley wants to connect with me? Really? This can't be real. I'm "famous" but I'm not that "famous" and I barely met John, no way, has to be fake. So I report it to LinkedIn. A second friend gets a similar invite, and she has never met John, but was a contractor for Apple, and at Pepsi when John was. I have her report it to Linkedin as well.

Linkedin rushes around, calls John, doesn't get anything but a generic voicemail. 72 hours later they remove the account. 4 days later John's wife gets back from a trip, and checks his email and sees that linkedin has removed his account.

Ooops. I have caused a legit person to have their account removed.

I'm not saying LinkedIn users are all "real" but they do seem to go out of their way to have what is described in this article not happen.

- http://www.linkedin.com/in/brandonwirtz

This is not the only underhanded practise from LinkedIn. I've had endorsements from people whom I know haven't logged into LinkedIn for years, including one from my partner who was sat next to me at the time and had even forgotten they had an old account there.

That's interesting. Recently, I've been receiving endorsements that seem completely random from some connections. For instance, I got one from an old college buddy (with whom I've connected, but haven't had time to catch-up) for "product management".

Got another endorsement from someone else who also had no way of knowing my skillset in a particular area.

Was thinking maybe they accidentally clicked on that intrusive, dark pattern of a prompt that keeps appearing atop the site. Now, I'm not so sure.

Is there an alternative to LinkedIn in that isn't (as) ethically dubious?

Well, in case anyone is curious: I have done a fair amount of searching, and for the most part it is a barren wasteland of alternatives. The only one I've found that looks OK is Seelio[1]. Let's see how this goes.

[1] https://seelio.com

> It's your story. We help you tell it.

They really need to write something that tells you what the service does.

Is there an alternative to LinkedIn period? I'm being serious, is there another "business focused" social network out there scavenging for life?

There's Xing, but it's mostly focused on Europe.

I get this all the time on the "suggested connections" page - names and email addresses extracted from my Gmail contacts, but the name is not a link to a profile (on normal suggested connections you can click on the name to see their profiles). I could easily spot those and not request to connect but it can be confusing for non-technical people.

What changed recently is that these fake profiles are also listed as having "shared connections" with me which is hard to believe considering those are not Linkedin profiles at all.

I actually thought I had found a way to delete these contacts. You can go to Network -> Add Connections -> Manage Imported Connections. Then you can delete those contacts (10 at a time - WTF).

Sadly, those deleted contacts are still showing up in my "People You May Know" page.

Hence, I think it is safe to assume that LinkedIn are doing a "Facebook delete".

Some people you connected with also had them in their address book?

Indeed, probably it's the number of times linkedin sent them some email titled "join linkedin now".

I can confirm that this happened to me as well. I deleted my Linkedin profile last year. I received a connection request. I went back to Linkedin to confirm if my account was deleted. Of course, I had no account associated with my email address. I was puzzled by this and did not know the answer until now. I am going to warn people that I know to not allow Linkedin to scan their contact list. I am definitely annoyed by this.

For what it's worth, LinkedIn has different wording on this page for people who have an account and those who don't. For people who have an account already, the button says "Connect". For those who don't it says "Add to Network". I agree that even "Add to Network" may mean to "my network", which is misleading.

I'm amazed nobody else has mentioned this. Everyone's talking about how this is such a dark pattern, but the interface clearly shows the distinction between the two interactions.

Bizarre headline rewrite, there.

Yep. Not what I submitted it with. If they're not using email addresses to identify people you might know then what are they using?

People you searched for, people who searched for you, people you know who have those contacts in their address books and have searched for them, etc, etc. You don't explicitly need the address book and this way they suggest people that you don't have, but almost certainly know.

LinkedIn's copy is as misleading as the title of this post. LinkedIn doesn't "increase its user numbers" by doing this, i.e. they don't report these ghost accounts to wall st analysts or include them in userbase statistics. It's simply a question of disingenuous language on their site.

I'm not sure how anybody other than LinkedIn knows what they report but in any event I never said they did.

This practice leads registered users to attempt to connect with people who are not using LinkedIn. In effect, LinkedIn uses its user base to spam non-users with requests to create accounts.

The lie (this person has an account already) leads to a potential increase in user numbers via the emails that are triggered by the request to connect.

Not exactly news that linkedin does this...

I tend to keep abreast of tech-related news and had not seen anything outlining this sort of behaviour. For me, the fact that they so blatantly suggest that people have a LinkedIn account when they don't is appalling.

As I noted in my post, I am not in fact that surprised though.

It's like tech-news outlining that the yellow hits atop a google search are paid for. Why this is on the front page of HN I have no idea.

Yeah, it's been a while already, and it's seriously annoying to pretend that people are using the service when they don't. I made the mistake a couple of times when trying to connect with people who appeared in my list.

Just go to LinkedIn, in the top drop down menu "Network" select Add Connections. You will get a list of "imported" users. That's the users LI tricked you to give to them when they asked you to grow your network and you let them connect to your gmail or other email. They sucked in not only your address book but probably all people that ever emailed to you.

In that list just go through all users and check all that don't have little LI icon next to them (no LI profile). Click Delete button and you are all set. You can just delete all of them if you want. I clicked on "allow access LI to GMail" by accident once, when they gave me some tricky pop up during my roaming on LI. Very shitty behavior IMHO

This is deceptive at best. I've been a fan of LinkedIn as a company until now.

Really? That's something I haven't heard of from a technical person in a very long while (if ever). LinkedIn's public image from the last 2 years:

* 2012 hack. 6.5M unsalted SHA1 password hashes leaked [1]

* 2013 Acquires Pulse, forces existing users to create a LinkedIn account. Users are pissed [2]

* 2013 LinkedIn Intro. In case you missed it, it was an iOS app that changed your mail settings to proxy your incoming mail through linkedin's servers in order to inject a frame with business-card-like CTAs. In the meantime, this naturally gave them instant access to all your emails. Massive privacy implications.

* 2013 LinkedIn Intro, 3 days after release. Jordan Wright shows a CSS-based phishing attack: security implications as well [3]

My personal experience with LinkedIn:

* My profile info is available to premium users without my consent

* Premium users can spam me without my consent.

* "Who viewed your profile" feature. Unbelievable.

* Constant contact requests from random people. I can't turn their email notifications off entirely (introductions are mandatory). EDIT: I was mistaken - <sarcasm>the process is very straightforward [5]</sarcasm>

* They seem to be in the business of intentionally misleading people (2011) [4]

So, personally I'm the furthest you can get from being a fan and I can't imagine what you were a fan of. They're top ranking on my shit list.

[1] http://blog.linkedin.com/2012/06/06/linkedin-member-password...

[2] http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2306932/linkedin-in...

[3] http://jordan-wright.github.io/blog/2013/10/26/phishing-with...

[4] http://www.michielgaasterland.com/online-reputation/try-link...

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-disable-all-of-linkedi...

When I sign up for a website, I do not give them information that I'm not comfortable being public. if you don't like it, don't use it.

I'm a fan of LinkedIn replacing the Rolodex. LinkedIn makes networking a whole lot easier. Maybe all your "technical" friends don't need to network, but I do.

Why did you create a profile? If you don't want to connect with your professional network, if you don't care who looked at your profile (and are even spooked about it), if you (likely) don't use it to find people... What do you think is the purpose of having a LinkedIn account?

> Why did you create a profile?

1) The intent was to separate my personal and professional social presence: Facebook is no place for doing or talking business.

2) I was looking for work at the time.

3) I tend to try things out

> If you don't want to connect with your professional network, I never said that.

> if you don't care who looked at your profile Whether I care or not, I don't think the network should be reporting views to profile owners. I don't think I am alone in this either: Can you think of any other social network that does this? Would you go back to Facebook if it reported your every view to your contacts? Of course I'm spooked by this.

> What do you think is the purpose of having a LinkedIn account?

Not sure. I can eliminate a few things:

- Not finding employees. I'm supposed to pay for premium to be able to search properly and message people, and then (given my personal experience as a user) my message will be lost in the noise of irrelevant offers (who the hell thinks a PHP developer would be remotely interested/suitable for UI/UX, C++, Technical Writer, ... ? Mass mailers do). SO careers and behance has served me very well instead.

- Not finding work. Can I even separate my contacts into people-that-can-see-that-im-looking and people-that-shouldnt nowadays? If so, I'll call it progress. (My boss shouldn't know if I'm looking ffs)

- Not organizing contacts. One flat list of people?

- Not content. The majority of content I got to see was PR/HR kind of fluff that was almost exclusively cross-posted from elsewhere. None of my professional contacts actually generate content - that seems to happen on Twitter and G+.

I guess I use it as another online CV.

> I guess I use it as another online CV.

> I don't think the network should be reporting views to profile owners. Of course I'm spooked by this.

So you're essentially freaked out that a prospective employer or business contact is looking at your CV.

> Not finding employees.

HR departments are paying for those premium accounts because they use it to find employees. Are you suggesting they don't know what they are doing?

> Not finding work. Can I even separate my contacts into people-that-can-see-that-im-looking and people-that-shouldnt nowadays?

You can update your profile without broadcasting the change to your contacts, and you can answer job offerings privately too.

A lot of people use it as the de-facto rolodex: you can learn a lot about who you're going to meet without being "stalkish" because people expect to be searched (well, not you apparently). You can use it to contact people in specific positions (cold call), I've done it with great success to get past unresponsive customer services.

Many people don't agree with their growth tactics, but few would say it's useless.

Your headline is extremely misleading. They are a public company and thus it is quite unlikely that they are lying about user numbers. That is a fantastic and relatively speedy way for a CEO to go to jail.

What they are doing is using your contacts list to mislead you into believing that many of your contacts are already on Linkedin. Once they get you to connect with yet-to-exist accounts, then they can legitimately spam your friends saying that you want to connect with them. Interesting strategy, but it will earn them some backlash.

Linkedin is a horrible, horrible company and very harmful to the startup culture and ecosystem.

I don't understand why Reid Hoffman, who I think is a great Angel investor is doing that to the startup community.

Oh wow, this explains so much! LinkedIn seems to be slacking with UX across the board IMO. The contacts page is entirely unusable, I have no idea what they were thinking when the built that.

Yesterday I logged in to LI after many months. Now, I've been around long enough to know not to give access to my GMail to anyone; so I've never done that. I also haven't installed the LI app on my iPhone.

And yet, among the "people you may know", LI had a few email addresses that I am sure don't have LI accounts, and would never have them.

So how did LI get those addresses? I was logged in to my GMail account in another tab; could it be some CSRF or such bug? I found it very creepy.

Seems every few months LinkedIn is busted on some nefarious activity. I don't know how it hasn't gotten a serious competitor yet, I can't stand them as a company.

That reminds me, I keep meaning to delete my linked in account. It literally is of no use to me, all it does is attract spam from useless recruitment agencies.

I've sometimes wondered about the folks with 0 connections. Same thing?

By and large I've found the website very useful.

I think the discomfort here is that it's not a standard practice - usually people are clicking an "Invite" action - and so the expectations of what happens creates some cognitive dissonance.

One of many reasons Linkedin are never getting my email logins (not that I use a webmail service which they can scrape anyway; my saved addresses are in thunderbird).

I've had numerous older relatives/friends accidentally sign-up for LinkedIn because of this and not even realize they have LinkedIn.

I noticed this a while back - I'm fairly sure they are scanning your mobile phone contact list via their mobile app.

I promptly uninstalled it.

I noticed this and don't like it. I even wrote them a complain through their Help Center and never got a response back. Sad.

They have gone too far. Disgusting.

That is. And they call it data mining...

Here is a idea: long LinkedIn @ 194.20, short FB @ 68.90.

Now, we come back in see in 5 years.

This trade made over $4000 in the last 10 days.

What is the lie here?

It's a misrepresentation; LinkedIn lets you assume a person from your address book already has a LinkedIn account, and that you should connect with her, whereas in fact she doesn't, and your action will result in inviting her into the system.

(Even more difficult to do when she's dead, although it's unclear whether LinkedIn has a way to know the living status of its real users).

I've always assumed they got it from my email account, and not from a real account. It's not a lie, they haven't even mis-represented.

The author fatfingered the "spam my contacts and ask them to join" button. It's annoying, but it's one step less evil than the games on Facebook that spam your friends without asking.

No shit Sherlock. Its been happening for years.

while they are at it, why don't they use a fake user generator?

My issue with LinkedIn is philosophical as well as practical: it's fucking dangerous.

In the career game, most of us have to be spies-- careful and immensely tactical with information-- in order to have success. A lucky few are so good at what they can do that they can shoot their mouth off (like I do) and tell the truth, for the good of the world. But most people will need to reinvent their histories at least once, and LinkedIn makes it harder to do that.

The upside: participation in a rather boring social network.

The downside: you can never reinvent yourself, because you've put too much information out there and people can find out that you actually were only a Director, not a VP, at that job in 2007, or that you spent 4 months at a shitty startup you've since taken off your resume.

But now it's almost socially unacceptable not to have a profile and actively play the game (so as to get double-digit endorsement counts in your specialties).

To me, LinkedIn seems to be a way for those in the slave class to polish their own chains.

>"The downside: you can never reinvent yourself, because you've put too much information out there and people can find out that you actually were only a Director, not a VP, at that job in 2007, or that you spent 4 months at a shitty startup you've since taken off your resume."

This is one of the reasons I've been thinking about killing my LinkedIn account. Profile stalking with intent to discredit seems pretty damn common.

I'd always been aware of this, but only in the last five years or so have I apparently become influential enough (at work) to be a target of it.

I wrote on this earlier: http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/why-i-wiped-m...

Profile stalking with intent to discredit seems pretty damn common.

Precisely. Take start and end dates, which are often not well defined (consulting arrangements that become full-time, severance agreements). Then there is the issue of title. Sometimes you want to inflate it, but just as often you want to deflate one (to establish trend, or reduce one's role in an unsuccessful venture) and possibly to a previous title you held at that company, which few would consider dishonest. You rarely know, at the time, how you'll want to tell a story 5 years in the future.

However, to the Clueless, any whiff of inconsistency suggests poor integrity, while such people still get demolished by real unethical people and their long cons. Actual unethical people don't fudge their titles or dates or references, they extort their managers and companies into giving them accolades "legitimately".

I would rather hire the guy who lied about his executive title/role on his resume than the (more common) one who actually had it but got it (as most corporate executives do) through extortion.

Down with Creepware! Down With Creeps!

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