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LinkedIn denies email "hacking" claim

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LinkedIn is denying claims that it "hacked" email accounts provided by users during registration, as claimed in a recent class-action suit.

In the complaint filed last Tuesday in a California U.S. District Court, plaintiffs Paul Perkins, Pennie Sempell, Ann Brandwein and Erin Eggers claimed that LinkedIn “hacked” external email addresses it requested in the sign up process to “extract email addresses” of their contacts.  

Court documents further alleged that LinkedIn “pretended to be” the owners of external email accounts in order to download users' contacts onto its servers for promotional use.

The complaint alleged that when users entered their email addresses to use a feature that finds out who they already know on the site, that LinkedIn "attempts to hack into your email account by tunneling through any open email program on user's desktop."

Even without a password, the networking service was purportedly able to "use an open connection to an email service to download a user's data," and then extract contacts from that users' email account, the complaint said.

As a result, LinkedIn subsequently sent endorsement emails to users' external email accounts, which, in some cases, embarrassingly included the emails of former spouses or clients users likely never intended to reach out to from their accounts, court documents said.

Over the weekend, LinkedIn promptly denied the allegations. The company's Senior Director of Litigation Blake Lawit, responded to the plaintiffs' accusations in a blog post.

Lawit said that the claims were “not true” and that the company wanted to clear up some of the “misinformation out there.”

He went on to write that LinkedIn does not hack or break into its members' accounts, and that it never “deceive[s] you by ‘pretending to be you,'” as alleged in the complaint.

Lawit also added that LinkedIn “never send[s] message invitations to join LinkedIn on your behalf to anyone unless you have given us permission to do so.”

The plaintiffs, Perkins and Brandwein of New York and California residents Eggers and Sempell, are seeking monetary relief on behalf of themselves and other LinkedIn members affected by the marketing practices in question. The complaint also alleges that LinkedIn violated California laws on privacy and data access as well as those protecting consumers' rights.

In a Tuesday email to SCMagazine.com, Dorian Berger, an attorney at Los Angeles-based firm Russ August & Kabat, who represents the plaintiffs, said that LinkedIn “has yet to file a response” in court to the complaint.

As for how the company allegedly hacked users' email accounts, Dorian wrote that “LinkedIn checks if a user has an open email session and then uses that session to gain access to scrape the email account for addresses.”

He added that the firm “conducted testing” and spoke with numerous LinkedIn users to verify allegations made in the complaint.

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