Judge orders LinkedIn to unblock startup from scraping public profile data: Report

A US judge has ruled in favour of HiQ Labs, which was temporarily blocked from using public LinkedIn data for training its AI models.

Microsoft subsidiary LinkedIn must unblock talent management startup HiQ Labs from scraping public profile data within 24 hours, US judge Edward Chen has ruled on Monday.

"This ruling allows us to continue serving our clients while we seek to permanently prevent LinkedIn from monopolizing the aggregation and analysis of publicly available information on the web," HiQ said in a statement on Monday.

"This is a step in the right direction to ensure that any person or company looking to build a business on data analytics of public data may do so. This includes any company who may have received a cease-and-desist letter from LinkedIn or other companies trying to exert exclusive control over information designated public by their users."

LinkedIn issued a letter in May asking HiQ -- which uses publicly available "people data" to train its AI models to predict employee behaviour -- to cease scraping its site as it violated its terms and conditions of use.

The letter indicated that LinkedIn had implemented technological measures to prevent HiQ from continuing to scrape its data, and that further attempts to circumvent such protections would be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the Digital Millennium Act.

However, Judge Chen stated in his ruling on Monday that adopting LinkedIn's "broad interpretation" of CFAA "could profoundly impact open access to the internet, a result that Congress could not have intended when it enacted the CFAA over three decades ago."

The court also ruled that "HiQ has raised serious questions as to whether LinkedIn, in blocking HiQ's access to public data, possibly as a means to limiting competition, violates state law."

HiQ initiated legal action against LinkedIn in June, alleging that the social network, which has more than 500 million members globally, was in violation of antitrust laws and that it cannot prove ownership of the data shared publicly by its members.

"This is a case with broad ramifications for free speech, competitiveness, and the fair use of material available to all on the internet," Mark Weidick, CEO at HiQ Labs, said in a statement in July.

"It is important to understand that hiQ doesn't analyze private sections of LinkedIn -- we only review public profile information. We don't republish or sell the data we collect. We use it only as the basis for the valuable analysis we provide to employers. We do nothing more than what employers, recruiters, and HR departments do every day.

"Other for-profit companies, including Google, Yahoo, and Bing, copy and index large portions of the public parts of LinkedIn's website and display that information in their search engine results for all the world to see."

LinkedIn plans to appeal the judge's decision, with a spokesperson telling Reuters it will "continue to fight to protect [its] members' ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn".

"Despite LinkedIn's protests that they are only trying to protect the privacy of their members, the court noted with respect to LinkedIn's Recruiter product, LinkedIn 'trumpets its own product in a way that seems to afford little deference to the very privacy concerns it professes to be protecting in this case'," HiQ said in a statement on Monday.

HiQ said LinkedIn marketing materials indicate that the professional social network may sell services to third parties based on LinkedIn profile information, whether or not certain information has been marked as private by members.

"We look forward to presenting our full case to the court, to LinkedIn and to the public, as we seek a permanent injunction to prevent LinkedIn from "walling off" sections of the public Internet simply to eliminate market competitors," HiQ said.

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