As a consumer, I have the right to choose which companies to support by spending my money on their products. This is good; this is how capitalism is supposed to work.

Over the past decade, our culture’s embrace of the Internet has enabled certain business models — namely, social media — based around user-generated content. In these models, a business (the “service”) allows a user to produce and consume content made available for and by others on that service, and in exchange the user grants the service certain rights to the produced content.

Economically speaking, this works well and is popular with both users and shareholders (ex. Facebook, Twitter). Don’t like the model? Don’t use the service — it’s that simple… right?

But when there exists a widespread expectation that a consumer will, as a prerequisite for employment, become a “member” (user) of a certain social-media service, consumers’ freedom of choice is threatened. I believe that such is the case for LinkedIn, and in this post I detail why I have decided to not use the service.

There’s the Good,

Many employers today expect candidates to be members of LinkedIn, from whom they purchase services that give their recruiters access to the network’s large reservoir of talent. If you’re a recruiter, you probably like this. If you’re an exec who has already committed that money for LinkedIn services, you probably have to like it. And since LinkedIn already has such a large user-base, it’s more profitable to require candidates to join the site than to worry about those who choose not to join.

Even if a recuiter decides not to contact a given individual, the connections listed on his or her profile provide valuable links to additional potential candidates. This is, in fact, a devilishly clever method of tricking users into recommending better-qualified candidates!

the Irritating,

LinkedIn introduced itself to me by saying an acquaintance wanted to “connect” with me — then, just in case I didn’t notice the email amidst all the other spam I receive, reminded me of this again, twice in as many weeks. This has happened again and again and — yes, you guessed it — again. Every email is reliably sent in duplicate, so I receive a total of six emails per invite.

It’s as if they’re actually trying to be ill-mannered.

the Subtle,

LinkedIn’s product is — you. By joining the site and entering your skills and contact information in a searchable database, you are adding value to the company’s services for recruiters and headhunters. The best part is that they don’t even have to work to get people to sign up, because many companies with prior investments in LinkedIn services expect you to be a member.

Let me spell it out: you are working for LinkedIn whenever you interact with their site. Their “free” services are provided on the assumption that you will produce marketable content by networking with others to produce an easily-browsable talent pool.

Career centers on major college campuses even host regular workshops to help students produce healthy-looking profiles on the site. Now, I’ll admit I was never interested in attending one of these workshops at the University of Washington, but I did wonder: was reading the LinkedIn user agreement and privacy policy ever on the agenda?

…and the Downright Evil.

The LinkedIn User Agreement starts getting weird around section 2.2:

As between you and LinkedIn, you own the content and information you provide LinkedIn under this Agreement, and may request its deletion at any time

Oh goody, you’re not claiming ownership of my name. Apparently they’re actually required to tell me this (paragraph 1). And giving me permission to request something doesn’t mean that request will be granted.

Additionally, you grant LinkedIn a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited … right to us to … retain … use and commercialize, in any way now known or in the future discovered, any information you provide, directly or indirectly to LinkedIn, including, but not limited to, any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques and/or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties.

In other words, they can sell any information you give them, forever, and if one of your ideas earns them billions you’ll never see a single cent. And the emphasized text above (emphasis mine) suggests that they never need pay attention to your requests to delete your information. Touché.

[For those interested, I highly recommend reading this article at which I linked to earlier. It’s an interesting overview of some other, ahem, peculiarities in the LinkedIn user agreement.]

Section 3.2 of the LinkedIn privacy policy says,

LinkedIn may retain your personal information even after you have closed your account if retention is reasonably necessary to … enforce this Privacy Policy and our User Agreement.

Retention would indeed be necessary to commercialize any of your personal information in any way “in the future discovered”. I suppose they could justify retaining all personal information forever, because at some point in the future they may find it profitable. For the time being, however, even contact information can be commercialized by continuing to inundate you with spam after you’ve closed your account.

So what?

LinkedIn is far from useless, especially for someone in my field. Joining the site enters you into a highly-searchable database widely-used by recruiters and headhunters. Because of the large buy-in by other companies, you can be sure that you’ll have a large audience of recruiters from respected corporations checking out your profile — without the discouraging, repetitive routine of sending out scores of resumes and hearing nothing in return.

But as for myself, I think I’ll hold out a bit longer.