By Natasha Kang
Natasha Kang is a rising senior at University of California, Davis.
Email is usually the first stop when someone opens an internet browser. You would probably see a flyer or two from stores you have subscribed to, bank e-statement notifications, some work emails, and maybe a few personal emails. But with some certainty, if you are an active professional, you will see an email from LinkedIn asking you to upgrade to premium; a status that allows you to see who is looking at your profile and to connect more easily with someone you may only vaguely remember.
On September 17, 2013, a 46-page complaint was filed against LinkedIn for sending emails to users’ contacts without their consent in a class-action-seeking lawsuit.  LinkedIn is a professional networking site based in Mountain View, California that helps its 300 million users get access to people, jobs, news, tips and more in your professional field in over 200 countries and territories.  When creating an account with the network, an external email account is required. If given access to the account by users, LinkedIn is able to send emails on behalf of the user advertising its products and services, as well as gather any email addresses in the account for LinkedIn’s servers. 
In Perkins et al. v. LinkedInCorp, U.S. District Judge Koh ruled that, while LinkedIn users consented to the networking site to sending an initial “endorsement” email to recruit from the users’ contacts, users did not consent to LinkedIn to sending additional reminder emails.  In the federal ruling, Judge Koh wrote that LinkedIn may have “actively led users astray” when stating they would not email anyone without the permission of the user.  The Judge also ruled that customers may pursue the claims regarding LinkedIn’s violations of their right of publicity as well as violations of a California unfair competition law.
The right of publicity protects a user from unauthorized use of their “name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of [their] persona” for commercial purposes.  The protection gives individuals the exclusive right “to license the use of their identity” for such commercial purposes. This right of publicity is commonly protected as part of the right to privacy or through the law of unfair competition, which deals with, “economic injuries to a business due to deceptive or wrongful business practices.”  In this case, the California unfair competition law defines unfair competition as any “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising” in its Business and Professions Code. 
Undoubtedly, more privacy concerns will be seen in courts in the future with the growth of social networking. Social network platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are able to gather information from its users – valuable information that enables companies to generate better profits in tailoring products and services. One way companies gather information is through online transactions. Someone purchasing a product is understandably recorded as a having a high degree of interest in market research.  After registering the activity, the website may inform the customer’s friends of the purchase as well as share with them a few offers or items in which they might be interested.
Does this system create some uneasiness? Maybe it should. People rarely read through the sometimes purposely dry and seemingly interminable terms and conditions agreements that are presented by social networking websites. However, if you are not careful about checking the right boxes concerning privacy options (and even if you are), personal information and data could be shared without your knowledge. That is, at least until you notice that all of the advertisements you have been seeing seem tailored to your exact tastes, or until your friends complain to you about the abundance of LinkedIn emails sent to them concerning “your” activity.
 Kristin Burnham, “LinkedIn Responds To Email-Grabbing Suit,” NETWORKComputing, September 23, 2013, http://www.networkcomputing.com/networking/linkedin-responds-to-email-grabbing-suit/d/d-id/1111644.
 LinkedIn About Page, http://www.linkedin.com/about-us?trk=hb_ft_about.
 Perkins et al v. LinkedIn Corporation Filing 47, (June 14, 2014).
 Jonathan Stempel, “LinkedIn must face customer lawsuit over email addresses,” Reuters, June 13, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/13/us-linkedin-lawsuit-idUSKBN0EO1N620140613.
 Right of Publicity, Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/publicity.
 Unfair Competition Law, Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/unfair_competition.
 Section 17200-17210, California Business and Professions Code, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=bpc&group=17001-18000&file=17200-17210.
 Jonathan Stempel, “Google must face U.S. privacy lawsuit over commingled user data,” Reuters, July 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/22/us-google-privacy-lawsuit-idUSKBN0FR1XA20140722.
 Theodore F. Claypoole, “Privacy and Social Media,” American Bar Association, http://www.americanbar.org/publications/blt/2014/01/03a_claypoole.html.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Nan Palmero