EDITORIAL: Data mining should be helpful not creepy

Or: Why Linkedin needs to cut it out already.

Yes, there are some people who choose not to participate in social networks. While even grandparents have somehow learned the value of Facebook, other networks have failed to prove their worth in certain circles. Twitter and Instagram may be all the rage among the under-25 crowd who (as a group) are obsessive documentarians of their own activities, older folks eschew these sites as nothing more than 21st-century party lines. A similar argument can be made for Linkedin, which is a great place to start a job search or get business contacts, but holds no allure for non-professionals or those in career professions (like teachers and police officers.)

This simple fact (that Twitter and Linkedin just aren’t for everyone) has created a sense of urgency among their respective owners. While Twitter is an easy sell due to its allure among the party crowd, the relatively grey-haired user base that Linkedin attracts has become increasingly unaffected by advertising, and that’s a problem as they seek to grow. The latest numbers available show that only about one out of five working Americans is even slightly active on Linkedin and that number isn’t going up.

Lately, non-Linkedin users have reported receiving multiple requests to join the service, up to five a day. It’s well-known that Linkedin gives users the option to search their mail services for contacts, but now it seems that Linkedin has gone over to the dark side. They’re using some sort of data mining, probably without users realizing it, to find names and e-mails of potential users. There are just too many reports of people who say they never gave Linkedin a friend’s name… Linkedin is doing something they shouldn’t. It may be legal but it’s not ethical.

Of course this is going to blow up in their faces. If Linkedin is lucky then they’ll simply get spamblocked. If they’re not it will turn into a scandal. That would probably spell the end of Linkedin for good, just as Myspace’s reputation for smarminess kept them from ever reaching the top tier of social networks.

I get it, Linkedin has to do something. It’s way too easy, with the right strategy, to reach the point where you’re connected to 6 million people, and that means no need to pay for the expensive Linkedin premium service. Down the road that leads to a drop in profits for Linkedin and eventually, its demise.

Linkedin desperately wants to be like Facebook, a place people visit every day. Unfortunately it’s turning into classmates.com — a once useful site that turned people off with obsessive advertising. By the way, when was the last time you visited classmates.com? Yeah, I haven’t been there in years either. Lesson learned, Linkedin?