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Libraries Push Back Against LinkedIn Learning Over Data Privacy

By Henry Kronk
July 29, 2019

A conflict has been heating up this summer between LinkedIn and library communities around the U.S. It involves recent changes to LinkedIn Learning, which was formerly, the online learning platform launched by prolific how-to author Lynda Weinman, had hundreds of online courses relating to a broad range of professional skills when it was purchased by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion in 2015. The site and its services are widely used by American libraries, many of which offer their members access to the online learning platform.

LinkedIn Learning Announces Changes to Log-In Procedure

All was well between the two parties until June, when LinkedIn announced plans to change the sign-on procedure to access the courses. Previously, users could sign on simply with their email and a password. The company recently changed this feature to require users to create a LinkedIn profile to access LinkedIn Learning.

This did not sit well with many libraries and librarians. For many, it violates their data protection policies.

The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights asserts that, “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.”

LinkedIn collects and monetizes user data through several different avenues. These include general internal uses, such as compiling business and professional data, improving their platform, and marketing their premium services to users. LinkedIn also sells and targets ads to users based on portions of the data they provide the platform.

Library stakeholders argue that, by changing the log-in procedure to LinkedIn Learning, the company is essentially requiring users exchange their data for the learning services.

Last week, the American Library Association (ALA) published a press release asking the company to reconsider their measures.

“The requirement for users of LinkedIn Learning to disclose personally identifiable information is completely contrary to ALA policies addressing library users’ privacy, and it may violate some states’ library confidentiality laws,” said ALA President Wanda Kay Brown, in a statement. “It also violates the librarian’s ethical obligation to keep a person’s use of library resources confidential. We are deeply concerned about these changes to the terms of service and urge LinkedIn and its owner, Microsoft, to reconsider their position on this.”

The California State Library went even further by calling for a boycott of LinkedIn Learning. As California State Librarian Greg Lucas said in a statement, “The California State Library recommends you no longer provide LinkedIn Learning in your library until the company changes its new use policy so that it protects the privacy of library users.”

LinkedIn: “[P]rotecting our members’ trust and data is our first priority and guiding principle.”

In a blog post that preceded both of these statements, LinkedIn said they made the changes, in part, “to authenticate that users are real people and further protect our members.”

The company insists that, to create a profile, users need only provide their first and last name along with an email address. The company says users can also set their profile to ‘Private Mode,’ which allows users to browse the platform without having their data shared with other users. Users can also set their profiles so that they won’t appear in search engines.

There are other data privacy settings that can be changed, but the platform does not allow users to generally opt-out of data collection. In their blog post, they insist that, “Our commitment to you is that protecting our members’ trust and data is our first priority and guiding principle.”

The company doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to data security. Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner found last November that the company violated their privacy terms. They claimed the company used the emails of 18 million non-members to target them with ads on Facebook. The company has since stopped this practice. 

Featured Image: The Santa Teresa Branch Library in San Jose, California. Pedro Xing.