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On Monday, US District Judge Edward Chen ordered LinkedIn to unblock its public data, to allow third party sites access PHOTO: Mambembe Arts & Crafts

LinkedIn public profile data is open to all. 

At least according to the preliminary ruling US District Judge Edward Chen delivered on Monday when he ordered Microsoft’s LinkedIn unit to remove any technology it had in place to prevent startup hiQ Labs from scraping its public profile data.

One Case, Broader Implications

San Francisco-based hiQ Labs was scraping LinkedIn public data to use in conjunction with algorithms it had written to predict employee behavior, such as when they might quit their jobs.

"To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers immediately," Chen wrote in the decision.

In May LinkedIn had sent hiQ a cease and desist letter claiming that “hiQ Labs, Inc. (“hiQ”) has used, and is using, processes to improperly, and without authorization, access and copy data from www.linkedin.com. This is not acceptable.”

HiQ filed a complaint with the court in June, presenting a counter-argument that it only analyzes public sections of LinkedIn. “We don’t republish or sell the data we collect. We use it only as the basis for the valuable analysis we provide to employers.”

Early in July Mark Weldrick, hiQ’s CEO wrote that “we do nothing more than what employers, recruiters and HR departments do every day.” He went on to add that Google, Yahoo! and Bing, also copy and index LinkedIn data and "display that information in their search engine results for all the world to see.”

LinkedIn representatives argued the use of LinkedIn user's data, even if public, threatened the privacy of LinkedIn users, citing the 50 million people who use the "Do Not Broadcast" feature to mask updates to their profile. It further argued hiQ's data scraping violated the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Reform), an argument Chen wrote was, "not without basis" but concluded "would have sweeping consequences well beyond anything Congress could have contemplated."

Not Over Yet

At the time of Microsoft's $26.2 billion acquisition bid for LinkedIn, Mary Jo Foley wrote in ZDNet about the key role LinkedIn's data played in the acquisition, noting "the potential synergies involving Microsoft's Office 365, Dynamics CRM/ERP and advertising products and services."

The broader implications of the case on how third party companies access and use publicly available data hosted on other services has many in the industry closely watching the ruling. 

A LinkedIn spokesperson told Reuters the company plans to challenge the court's decision, stating, "This case is not over."