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Fleas, Dogs, and Why I’m Sticking With LinkedIn

Thoughts on Freemium and onerous terms of service.
Apr | 24 | 2014


Apr | 24 | 2014

I thought long and hard last weekend whether to delete my LinkedIn account. Heather Bussing’s excellent post on killing hers got me thinking. Here’s an excerpt:

Here are the Terms of Service in LinkedIn’s User Agreement that I don’t agree to:

LinkedIn’s Unlimited License to Sell My Information to Anyone: Section 2.2 of the user agreement grants Linked an unlimited license to do whatever it wants with the information you post on LinkedIn, including the right “to use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered . . . without any further consent, notice and/or compensation.

LinkedIn’s Right to Control Who Sees My Information: Section 2.2 also gives LinkedIn the right to control other users’ “access and share rights to your content and information.

Competitors Aren’t Eligible to Join LinkedIn: Section 2.3 says that you are not eligible to join or use LinkedIn if you are a “competitor of LinkedIn” or if you are “using the Services for reasons that are in competition to LinkedIn.” LinkedIn is the one who gets to decide who is in competition. And LinkedIn can pretty much decide that anyone who is not paying them is a competitor. This provision is probably illegal in California under Business and Professions Code section 16600 which says “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” LinkedIn can charge people or be free to everyone, but it can’t be free to everyone except the people it thinks might compete with it.

LinkedIn Puts All Liability on Me: Section 2.4 explains that you own your content, but LinkedIn owns your Profile, which basically means that LinkedIn owns the presentation of your information on their website. This is fine and legal once you can wrap your brain around the idea.

Bussing is a smart cookie. In her post, she makes some great points and I don’t disagree with any of them. I’ll be the first to admit that LinkedIn’s language just feels icky to me, not that I routinely read the legalese in these companies’ terms of service. What’s more, the ToS isn’t my only issue with LinkedIn. (See The Absurdity of LinkedIn.) I have major issues with its current user interface, but I’ll save that rant for another post.

Still, I won’t be quitting LinkedIn anytime soon. Here’s why.

With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google, the users are the product.

Cui Bono?

If I were a LinkedIn customer, its ostensibly one-sided ToS would certainly bother me. But I’m not, and I’m guessing that you’re not either. Roughly 90 percent of LinkedIn users opt for the free version. In other words, we’re users, not customers. And make no mistake: there’s a world of difference between the terms. They are anything but synonyms.

Ditto for Facebook, Google, Twitter, and scores of other companies that embrace the Freemium model. These companies have to monetize their users. Like it or not, we are the product. And who knows? Maybe we are giving up too much for free e-mail, cloud storage, and social networks. Jaron Lanier believes so. That’s a key point in his new book Who Owns the Future? Here’s an interview with Lanier on Charlie Rose.

Now LinkedIn is not nearly as important for me as a source of lead generation as my website, books, word of mouth, and other talks. Still, I’d be lying to myself if I claimed that LinkedIn was totally inconsequential to my professional livelihood. As a result, I will tolerate its ToS.

This begs the question: Is there a line that LinkedIn can’t cross with its users? I suppose so, but I don’t quite know where I would draw it. I would gladly pay to join a comparable professional social networking site with more equitable less draconian terms of service, but nothing approaches LinkedIn’s scale and import. And trust me, LinkedIn is acutely aware of this. It’s highly unlikely that the company would put such language in its ToS if doing so posed a material risk to its business. I’d bet my house that a team of lawyers reviews each version of its ToS.

Simon Says: The Fleas Come with the Dog

Recognize that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The fleas of the freemium model come with the dog.

Originally published on Wired.

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