LinkedIn chips away at privacy controls

This week, LinkedIn made more changes that make it harder to maintain your privacy. Much like earlier this year when Facebook abolished its setting that allowed users to be "invisible" to those outside their network, LinkedIn is following suit. 

Up until a few days ago, you could click on "Who's Viewed My Profile?" on the homepage to see who has checked out your page. Every user has always had the option of customizing what another user saw when that link was clicked. There were three options: 1) A user could display his/her full name and LinkedIn headline, 2)  The user could show anonymous profile stats, such as industry and title (the most popular option), or 3) Users could be invisible so no one could track their activity. With the new changes, if you completely give up the right to see who's viewed your page, you can maintain the "anonymous" or  "invisible" option. What that means is you must choose option #1 of full disclosure if you want to continue to see who's checked out your profile.

Now, lots of people look at my Twitter page. I don't know who they are. Many people visit my blog and, again, I don't have their exact names and job titles. Same thing with Facebook. So, LinkedIn is the first of these networking sites to mandate a looky loo setting.

The site's argument is that if I can now see that John Johnson (who I don't know), director of PR at Gamble's Gizmos has looked at my profile, I can send John a note saying, "Hey, noticed you checked out my profile. What's up?" Talk about calling someone out! Personally, if I look at someone's LinkedIn page, I certainly don't want him or her to shoot me an email to ask why. I obviously have my reasons and if it's important, I'm going to contact the person regardless.

I know the privacy line is continuing to shift in this age of social media. I know that if you utilize any of these sites, you are agreeing to make many aspects of your life public. However, the fact that LinkedIn (and previously Facebook) have offered settings to ensure privacy and then yanked them away bugs me. I mean, gosh, a stranger can't see my search history on the internet, so why is my search activity on LinkedIn now public?

I admit, I have a stronger opinion about privacy than most of my social media peers. However, this is also about choice. If someone wants to maintain some aura of privacy, why can't they? Do we really have to know all the activities and habits of every Tom, Dick, and Harry? I mean, really, must everything be broadcast to the world?

If someone looks at my LinkedIn profile, they have their reasons and if they choose to contact me, I welcome it. However, I have no intention of hassling that person to inquire why. Will you?


  1. Thanks Amber for being the ever vigilant watchdog on the changing privacy landscape of social media tools. I hope this doesn't detour more people from using LinkedIn and yet, others have equated it to "putting up your business card on the bar bathroom wall". Maybe the latter is more private than LInkedIn after all!

  2. Thanks, Derek. LinkedIn didn't announce this change, but I stumbled upon it.

    I'm actually a huge fan of LinkedIn and I love having a reputable platform upon which to market myself. I think it's great that users can discover other smart people to connect with and help each other grow professionally. I mostly object to the rules being changed and users being forced into a corner.

    And, much like the "follow" option I ranted about in July (, I'm not happy about the direction LinkedIn is headed. It's trying to be Twitter and Facebook and introduce more social networking aspects to the site, but there's nothing wrong with maintaining a professional feel ( my other rant from last year,

    Gee, I do seem to rant about LinkedIn a lot, don't I? Maybe there's something to that, eh? ;->

  3. Thanks for this post, Amber!

    I've recently moved from Canada to the USA, and have been using LinkedIn quite a bit, as I network with others and build new connections. I grew to really like the profile stats LinkedIn offered - i.e. how many people have viewed my profile, their industry, and region etc. I do, however, appreciate my privacy more and have chosen to keep my profile view settings anonymous. It's a shame I can't simply continue to have the same statistics I grew to like, without compromising my own sense of privacy.

    To answer your question, I don't think I would reach out to someone if they've viewed my profile randomly. It definitely feels like I'd be calling them out, sending a negative message in a social network meant to offer a positive overall networking experience.

  4. Mary Lou, thanks so much for adding to the discussion. I've received a few comments offline that mirror your opinion.

    I, too, enjoyed the stats and certainly never begrudged the fact that I rarely saw someone's complete name and title (since few selected that option in the past). I do think a lot of these sites are "training" us to give up privacy in exchange for data. Data for advertisers, subscribers, members, partners, etc. Granted, privacy isn't an issue for everyone. But for those who like to maintain some sense of anonymity, it seems like that option is slowly being taken off the table.

    Thanks again, Mary Lou!

  5. Hi Amber - I had the same initial reaction you did. Then I started seeing this interesting quid pro quo in the making. I could see when some people came to see me but they would never know I was there, lurking in the shadows. Spooky. :-)

    In the end, I chose to allow folks to see me, because I didn't want to give up seeing them. And because a quick profile view isn't too much of an intrusion. Is it?

    Curious to watch this one unfold.

  6. This happened to me this week. No way would I give out personal information based on just looking at a profile. Since there was no benefit to even allowing my generic information to be shown (which I was okay with), I just turned it all off. Now I can't see who has looked at me, but, really, it just saves me time. So linkedin is making it easier not to waste time on them ...

  7. You know, I haven't logged into LinkedIn in a few weeks, I guess I should go look. Pretty sure I am anonymous to those outside of my network. ... Thanks Amber. Now I'm going to go stalk my stalkers :)

  8. Stalk your stalkers! I love it! (Oh, I did officially "like" it, too!)

    Thanks for adding to the conversation, Annette!

  9. That's certainly a way to look at it! All this stuff is a time suck sometimes, huh?

  10. Hi Tim. Yeah, I do have issues with lurkers too (as I've already ranted about in the past). And, I agree with you. It should be interesting to see how this change unfolds. I suspect it's merely the middle phase in a larger master plan, perhaps. Maybe a pay for data subscription model?

  11. I agree with you and that's why I don't have a facebook account and don't normally send any emails or linked-in messages to anyone I Don't know!

  12. Thanks for the great post, Amber. I find this privacy trend disturbing and while Facebook gets a deservedly bad rap when it comes to opting people in, I think posts like yours are really important in pointing out the other social media sites that are using similar sneaky tactics. Regardless of where you lie on the privacy scale, I think it's important to at least know what you're sharing and to whom for each of the social media sites you belong to. If you asked yourself what information you were sharing w/ your privacy settings on each social media platform, would you know the answer? I'm not sure that I would know the answer for all of them (and that's disturbing).

  13. What bothers me is the attitude that it's OK to change the rules after a person has agreed to the then-current terms and started using the system. Clearly, LinkedIn is not the only one doing this (Facebook is the poster child), but it's a mentality and an attitude that says to the user that regardless of what we say, we really don't mean it. You are just a dollar sign to us.

  14. Hi Allen. Well, I think you're right on many counts. As companies try to find ways to monetize these free social media sites, I bet we'll start to see more and more of these changes. It's quickly becoming about data. Data that can ultimately be sold. Users like us are ultimately nothing more than data.

    I appreciate you adding your opinion to the di$cu$$ion!. :->

  15. Just an FYI: Paid LinkedIn accounts still get to choose from showing full details, obfuscated or the classic "full stealth mode" for profile viewing.

    It'll be interesting to see if there is ever an official announcement of these changes. It does seem to have been slipped in surreptitiously, though plenty of people have noticed. Some are pissed off, others just puzzled.

  16. That IS interesting, Nick! I wasn't aware of that as I only have a basic account and not a paid account. Well, that changes this whole conversation, doesn't it? They're not outing everyone, they're just outing us deadbeats who don't pay. VERY interesting!

    I always say follow the money, and finally, there it is. Maybe in addition to access to data, this is also about getting people to upgrade to paid subscriptions. For instance, if they see search go down because of the new full-disclosure rules, perhaps they can use that as a selling point to upgrade people to paid subscriptions.

    These sites are so desperately trying to get the monetization part of their businesses in place, and since LinkedIn is really the only one with a pay option already in place, that does give it options that Twitter, Facebook, etc, don't have.

    Thanks so much for sharing this incredibly insightful nugget of information with the group! It really adds a new dimension to the dialogue!

  17. Help me out here, Amber. You say in an earlier comment that you've "ranted" against lurkers, but you're upset that LI has "taken away" your ability to lurk... I'm confused. There also seems to be an inherent hypocrisy in the idea that you want the ability to check out someone else's profile, but it's not okay for them to check out yours. What am I missing?

    With all due respect to everyone who's affirmed your point of view, I'd like to offer a different perspective: Who cares? I don't see this as a violation of privacy at all. If I look at someone's profile, they'll know it. Big whoop. And they can check out mine. Again, big whoop. I have nothing to hide - and in fact, I would love for them to look at my profile. That's why I'm on LinkedIn! And if I didn't want people to see it, I'd lock it down. Which brings me to my next point: what exactly is private about a LI profile? I know LI lets people add marital status and other personal informatiion, but I advise everyone not to do that as it has no relevance in a professional social networking site. So, if people only include relevant professional information, what do they need to protect?

    I think it also bears remembering that the vast majority of us get to reap the benefits of LI for FREE, so complaining about it can come across as rather petty and self serving. People who don't like the terms of use - or how they change - can always opt out. But I'd be careful about ascribing nefarious motives to their actions...

    Finally, as a practical matter, this is much ado about nothing. The number of people who are going to follow up with people who've checked out their profiles is infinitessimally small. I occasionally look to see who's viewed my profile when I'm taking a little mental break, and I don't think I've ever acted on that knowledge, even when I had a paid account. And I'm an active user. Most people spend very little time on LI, and they probably don't visit their own profile much at all. And LI shows only a handful of results from the recent past, so the likelihood of being outed is crazy low!

    Sorry if I've come across too harsh. I think there are serious issues surrounding digital privacy that have to be addressed. In my view, this just doesn't happen to be one of them. I'd rather see us focus on more substantive threats and issues.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

  18. P.S. Nick, your post on cyber criminals and LinkedIn invites was very interesting.

    * For those who are interested, the link to Nick's story is here. Very good information to have:

  19. My biggest concern about these privacy settings is how it affects your job search/interview process. I don't want hiring managers/executives at companies knowing I "cyber-stalked" them.

    To get ahead in the interview I like to get an idea of the interviewers background, their career path, connections I have in common and even a feel for potential coworkers.

    If I saw a potential employee saw my profile I'd probably feel a little "stalked" to say the least.

    My social networking sites are all public, but LinkedIn is my only pure business site, I don't have it linked to my Twitter or Facebook accounts as I feel there is no need to have my personal life right in my business connections "faces" per se.

  20. Melanie, you bring up an EXCELLENT point that I'm surprised no one's mentioned yet! Looking up a hiring manager on LinkedIn was always a stealth mission that empowered you with inside information. If the person now knows that you did that, you're right, they might feel weird about it. Either they'd be impressed or feel violated, hard to know which.

    And, an equally good point on the potential co-workers. If someone had interviewed for a job within my department, for example, but not with me, and they were checking me out, I'm not sure how I'd feel about that.

    Thanks for bringing an interesting new turn to the conversation, Melanie. The job search component is definitely important as it pertains to this change in privacy.

  21. Hi Keith! Thanks so much for your kind words! I appreciate it a lot.

    I, too, can see both sides, but the privacy part outweighs the other part for me. Melanie (below) also brought up a good point regarding interviewing. I do concur with you about changing the rules midstream, though. Unfortunately, I think we're seeing a trend on these sites that terms of service and privacy clauses are constantly in flux. But, I'm with you in that I sign on with a certain understanding. When the rules change, I'm usually not pleased. As a matter of fact, any change I've seen on these sites has never been one that I've been happy about.

    As Courtney so brusquely pointed out below, we always have the option of opting out. However, once we've worked so hard to establish a presence on these sites or beef up our profiles, it's difficult to just walk away.

    Thanks for chiming in, Keith! Sounds like your 5-year-old is destined to be founder of a social media site down the road! :->

  22. Hi Amber, I just discovered your blog this morning and it has made for some great reading.

    I am actually able to see both sides of the argument regarding LinkedIn but what is upsetting to many people is that they are changing the rules as they go along and not screaming it from the rooftops.

    If you know up front what you are getting into up front, people can make the choice whether or not to join a group or site, fair enough, if I don't like your sites privacy policies, I can bail out like a pilot jumping from a burning plane but if I sign up and you quietly make changes and all of a sudden I am exposed to the elements, people tend to get a little miffed.

    It is OK to change the rules, you just have to do so loudly so that everyone can hear them and understand them.

    My 5 year old likes to change the rules and not tell anyone and what he finds is that people stop playing...........

  23. Courtney: There's a big difference between a LinkedIn lurker who follows everything you do on a site (e.g. getting notifications of your comments, posts, new connections, group activity, etc.) and someone who looks at a profile once. I do not see that as hypocrisy.

    I never said this was a "threat" and no doubt you are correct that there are more "serious issues" out there. This is merely a change to user privacy of which people should be aware.

    If you believe there are more important topics that you'd "rather see us focus on" which you feel need to be addressed, I hope you bring light to them over on your own website. As for looking at your LinkedIn profile, trust me when I say I know all I need to know by the way you've chosen to communicate your point of view here. As the saying goes, you can disagree without being disagreeable.

  24. See, I think you're on target with the word "caught". That's kind of what it feels like to me.

    Platforms like LinkedIn are based on the premise that you can search a database of talented people in hopes of finding top notch talent, collaborators, business partners, etc. What if, for example, I looked at someone's profile hoping they could do a job for me and I realize after looking at their background that they're unqualified? Do I really want them contacting me to ask why I looked at their LinkedIn page? No.

  25. that's creepy and kind of embarrassing for the person "caught" looking. Can make a person feel like a stalker and therefore less likely to want to look at anyone's info if your every move is monitored.

  26. Jim, I get maybe 5-10 LinkedIn invites a month from people I don't know. I know everyone manages their LinkedIn account differently, but I don't accept them. I like to keep my network to those I know and can personally vouch for (and who will do the same for me!).

    Thanks for chiming in, Jim!

  27. Megan: It was a pleasure meeting you on LinkedIn and thanks so much for bringing your thoughts to our discussion!

    I concur that the direction privacy is taking is something we should all follow closely. I think this is the beginning of something much bigger and if we give up our privacy without so much as a peep, it will slowly go away altogether. Most rights are lost little by little and rarely in one fell swoop.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to chime in!

  28. It is also interesting to know that when you contact linkedin about this they act like they don't know what you are talking about- like it has always been this way.

  29. Laverne117: Really? They act like they don't know about it? How odd. I can't see any benefit to doing that. Well, other, than them pretending like they didn't take something away from the non-paying user. Which, of course, they did. :-)

  30. I would suspect that they'd be able to see you UP UNTIL you've opted for #3. However, this is only my guess and not a proven fact ;-)

  31. OK . . so what happens if you decide to go completely anonymous (choice #3 Don't show users that I've viewed their profile). Do all my prior views disappear? For instance, say yesterday I viewed a profile. Today I became aware of the Profile Setting Options and changed from the Default Option #2 (Only show users my anonymous profile characteristics) to Option #3. Will the person who owns the profile I viewed yesterday still be able to see my "anonymous profile characteristics"?


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