As reported on Monday, hiQ had a nice little victory in their court battle with LinkedIn. “A federal judge issued a huge setback for LinkedIn on Monday, ruling that LinkedIn can’t block the startup hiQ Labs from accessing public profile data,” wrote our own Shannon Pritchett. “Many news outlets were calling this a test for the social media conglomerate in how much control it can exercise over data on its users and what it’s believed to be public. The primary question in this case, can a social media site control access to information its users post publicly?”
In light of the ruling, hiQ has issued a formal statement. Enjoy.
This is an important victory – not just for hiQ, but for any company that uses publicly available data for the services it provides. hiQ believes that public data must remain public, and innovation on the Internet should not be stifled by legal bullying or the anti-competitive hoarding of public data by a small group of powerful companies.
In granting our request for a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn, Judge Chen rejected LinkedIn’s attempt to cast hiQ’s aggregation and analysis of publicly available information from the LinkedIn website as a violation of a federal criminal statute. Specifically, the judge ruled “the Court is doubtful that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act may be invoked by LinkedIn to punish hiQ for accessing publicly available data; the broad interpretation of the CFAA advocated by LinkedIn, if adopted, 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 further explained that if “merely viewing a website in contravention of a unilateral directive from a private entity would be a crime,” the law would “effect the digital equivalence of Medusa.” 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.”
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. 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.
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 only use it as the basis for the valuable analysis we provide to employers. Moreover, LinkedIn doesn’t own the data contained in member profiles. It is information the members themselves have decided to display publicly, and it is available to anyone with access to a web browser.
And 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.” At the hearing, hiQ pointed out that LinkedIn marketing materials indicate that it may be selling services to third parties based on LinkedIn profile information in its entirety (regardless of whether Members have designated the information private). The San Francisco Chronicle recently characterized LinkedIn as being “guilty of blatant hypocrisy,” and Judge Chen referenced LinkedIn’s practices in his ruling.
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.
As noted, this ruling is just the beginning of what could have far reaching implications on how web site content and traffic is treated. “We’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,” a LinkedIn representative said following the ruling. “This case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members’ ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn.”
“An injunction hearing means little to the merits; this case is far from over. Also, why does hiQ get to suck down LinkedIn’s bandwidth and CPU cycles without paying?,” asked Martin Snyder, president of Main Sequence Technologies in a social media post. “This may end up that everyone is entitled to one free view of public pages, and after that, money needs to flow.”
Pro or con, the industry is undoubtedly taking notice. We love a good fight and we love underdog stories, so this is one we’ll continue to watch and cover.