LinkedIn Free Speech Argument: The Weakest Link?

If a person were to send a message surreptitiously from a friend’s email account, it would be considered wrongful “hacking.” When LinkedIn is that “person,” it believes it is free speech.

The subject of dispute is LinkedIn’s emailing of users’ friends with invitations to join the site−without user permission. The issue, however, is not as clear-cut as it may seem, as the company is arguing a right to send emails as free speech allowed under the site’s user agreement. A lawsuit against LinkedIn seeks a decision on whether the company wrongfully violated a California law about endorsements regarding using names and images in emails to contacts.

The California law cited was also the fulcrum for a similar case involving Facebook’s sponsored story ads that allegedly misappropriated user identities, eventually resulting in a Facebook settlement to the tune of $20 million.

“As a platform for creating professional networks of people, LinkedIn promotes the rights of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment,” LinkedIn said in a statement. “Accordingly, reminder emails, which refer recipients to communications from LinkedIn members expressing their desire to connect… facilitate associations among people and therefore concern matters of public interest.”

If the case finds that free speech protections apply, LinkedIn will evade the California law on the premise of guaranteeing people’s right to discourse over matters of public consequence.

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