WTF is LinkedIn doing with my data?

LinkedIn appears to know who I’m communicating with on Gmail. I’d like to know why.

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Social networks are like overeager party hostesses. They’re always trying to introduce you to new people, even if all you want to do is stand in the corner and wolf down hors d’oeuvres.

But sometimes social nets get too pushy and start making connections they really shouldn’t be able to make, in ways that can be startling and even disturbing.

Case in point: A few weeks ago I logged into LinkedIn and saw it was recommending I connect with someone who was, at that very moment, staying in a rental property of mine.

 

 

Let’s call my renter Jennifer, since that’s her first name. Jennifer and I connected via Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) and conducted our business entirely via Gmail and PayPal. We did not know each other before this transaction, nor do we really know each other now. We have never met nor spoken. We do not work in the same industry, we have no friends in common and no social media connections.

The only things we share are that we both live in the same state, we exchanged emails, and she rented a place from me. And yet, there she was, number one on the LinkedIn recommendations page, the same day she moved into my condo.

How the hell did that happen?

I have never imported my Gmail contacts into LinkedIn. Until LinkedIn recommended we connect, I had never looked at her LI profile, nor she at mine. (When she did, she found LI had recommended me to her, but on page 5 of the People You May Know list.)

And while LinkedIn often recommends strangers to me, there’s usually some connection due to industry affiliation or shared contacts. None of that applies here.

The only explanation I can come up with is that LinkedIn algorithms are grabbing information from other sites and/or apps, possibly via tracking cookies. This would of course be in violation of LinkedIn’s privacy policy. 

I politely asked LinkedIn if they could explain. They said no. Per a spokesperson:

As with many companies that rely on algorithms to deliver relevant suggestions to its members, we don’t share too many details for obvious reasons. What I can tell you is that we use a variety of data points -- including but not limited to mutual connections and profile views, among others -- to make relevant suggestions. I also want to note that any data that we use is completely consistent with our privacy policy.

I talked to the guy who invented People You May Know when he worked at LinkedIn six years ago. He also declined to discuss the company’s algorithms with me.

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