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LinkedIn Disavows Ads With User Pictures

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LinkedIn has decided to stop using the pictures of its users in ads. Responding to critical reports in a blog post on Thursday, Ryan Roslansky, director of product management for the business-oriented social network, conceded that LinkedIn could have communicated its intentions regarding social ads more clearly and acknowledged that some of the site's users were unhappy having their names and images used in commercial messages.

"[E]ven though our members are happy to have their actions, such as recommendations, be viewable by their network as a public action, some of those same members may not be comfortable with the use of their names and photos associated with those actions used in ads served to their network," Roslansky wrote.

The revised Ads By LinkedIn Members format will no longer include user pictures but will retain a link that leads to a list of users in the viewer's network that have followed the advertised service or company.

The incident underscores the uneasy cohabitation of honest communication and calculated commerce on social networks, and almost certainly won't be the last such gaffe.

In June, through a privacy policy change, LinkedIn granted itself the option to republish the photos and names of users in ads on the site when those users take actions on the site, like following a company or recommending a person or service.

As many Internet companies do when launching new services that have privacy implications, LinkedIn made this feature opt-out. In order to opt-out, users have to go to their Settings page, under the Account tab, and deselect the checkbox in the Manage Social Advertising link.

Security company Sophos argues that LinkedIn should have made its social ads opt-in, something most Internet companies resist because so many Internet users can't be bothered to change settings.

"This feature is opt-out, even though it reduces your privacy and infers your goodwill, and even though it wasn't part of LinkedIn's service when many current users signed up," said Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Sophos' Asia Pacific group, in a blog post. "Like Facebook with its controversial and much-dissected opt-out facial recognition functionality, LinkedIn has snuck this one in under the radar."

Roslansky stresses that LinkedIn made an effort to let people know about the changes it made to its privacy policy in June, as a precursor to its social ad test, and that the issue was raised again when the social ad test launched shortly afterwards. He also insists that LinkedIn does not share personal information with third parties and only used information for its social ads that was already publicly available.

"Trust is the foundation upon which the LinkedIn platform is built," Roslansky concludes. "We'll continue to work hard to earn and maintain that trust with you, our members, while delivering the most valuable and relevant experience we can."

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