Voyeurism on LinkedIn

Today I’m going to talk about a LinkedIn feature few people know. I don’t think that it’s even been mentioned by Guy Kawasaki, although I may be wrong, as his posts on the topic are way too numerous to peruse. Yet I’ve found it to be an interesting way to turn LinkedIn into a most voyeuristic tool.

I’m going to assume that you’ve let LinkedIn comb through your webmail and/or Outlook contacts. (I know this practice may make you uneasy if you’re concerned about privacy. I’m concerned too, but to the company’s defense I have to say that (1) their stated compliance with EU, not just US, privacy regulations is a good thing, and that (2) in over three years of using LinkedIn I haven’t had a hint that any of my personal or network information was used other than in proper ways. Still, it’s a fine line and I’m ready to nuke my profile and all my connections should I ever suspect that LinkedIn isn’t walking the talk.) So, here’s the neat feature.

  1. Go to the “My Contacts” tab.
  2. Click on the “Other contacts” sub-tab. That’s where you can see your gazillion Hotmail/Gmail/Outlook contacts.
  3. Above the list, there will be a sentence that says “You have XXXX contacts (View LinkedIn users)”. Click on the “View LinkedIn users” link.
  4. You will see a subset of those contacts, in a list with the sentence “You have YYYY contacts already using LinkedIn”. By default, they’re sorted alphabetically. However, and here’s where it gets interesting, you can click on the “View recent users first” link. And you’ll see them sorted in the order or recency of accessing the site. (Try it: if I’m one of your contacts, you should be able to infer that I’ve been on LinkedIn, well, today, as I was writing this post).

Why is this useful? Well, you may have several people you know and you’d like to link to. However, it’s kind of hard to tell if they find LinkedIn useful, if they like it (some people, such as Nick Gonzalez, hate it), and as a consequence if they’re likely to accept your invitation as opposed to letting it languish in their inbox. There’s a long tail of people who opened a LinkedIn profile, added a handful of contacts, and then never came back to the site. But if they’re recent users, I reckon, they’ve got to think that LinkedIn has got something going for it. So, assuming they know who you are, they’re much more likely to accept your invitation.

Is this feature beyond where I draw the line in terms of privacy? I don’t think so. We all expose some personal information on the Web with every step we take. (For example, if you’ve ever bought from me or sold to me on eBay, you know my eBay user ID, and you can easily find out that my latest purchase on eBay was a DVD of the “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii” concert). As you know, the only way to live anonymously is to cut up all your credit cards, ditch your Internet connection and move to the woods. So, I don’t mind that you know I’m a “recent user”. I protect the privacy of my network by not showing who’s in it: I don’t like people boasting “Hey, look at my cool contacts, I’m linked to So-and-so” (however, if you’re looking for a particular person, and you find out that I’m the additional degree of separation between you and them, I’ll be happy to introduce you). Many of your LinkedIn settings can be tweaked to provide what you feel is right for you.

Oh, and one final note: I’m not what people have started calling an “open networker”. I only connect on LinkedIn with people I have met face-to-face at least once in my life. I think it’s against the spirit of the platform to connect, MySpace-style, to thousands of people you’ve never met. The site itself, in the privacy FAQs, states that “Most important, we strongly recommend that you only connect to people you know and trust well enough to recommend them to others.” While I understand that others may play a pissing game to see who collects the most contacts in their network, I’m strongly opposed to accepting random invitations from strangers. So, yes, invite me, but only if we’ve already met in real life.

Otherwise, as they say, get a first life.

3 thoughts on “Voyeurism on LinkedIn

  1. I don’t think this feature goes too far in terms of privacy – a lot of products offer this. MyBlogLog for instance tells you when the user was last online. I think it is quite common at this point.

    I agree with you on who to add to my network. I just ignore the invitations I get from people I don’t know and have never even spoken to!

  2. unfortunately I let the willingness for the growth of my network to take on the concern for privacy, and let unknown people connect to my profile.

    As a consequence, I got spam emails on the email address I published on linkedIn. The easy solution was to publish a “spammable” email address, at gmail.com

    Nevertheless, let me disagree with you on the opportunity to “connect” only with people met face-to-face. IMHO, and it’s also stated quite clearly by LinkedIn, the tool is useful to reach people that you’d like to met in person.

    That’s why I’m still using linkedIn.
    Cheers

  3. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I too have occasionally asked a contact to put me in touch with a second-degree contact. However, the purpose is usually to set up a face-to-face meeting. I may invite the person to join my LinkedIn network after we’ve met in person, and only if the meeting has gone well!

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