Some users of LinkedIn have launched a lawsuit against the professional social networking site, accusing it of hacking into their email addresses to access their contacts’ information for marketing purposes. LinkedIn has denied these claims.

LinkedIn

The LinkedIn homepage appears on a computer screen in Washington on August 30, 2010. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm)

Bloomberg News reported that the lawsuit, filed Sept. 17, asked a judge to bar the company from conducting the alleged practices without user knowledge, and is seeking damages for the revenue that would have been gained through such activity.

“LinkedIn’s own website contains hundreds of complaints regarding this practice,” the filed complaint stated, according to Bloomberg.

On of these complaints comes one from plaintiff Deborah Lagutaris, a tax preparer and real estate broker. She claims LinkedIn contacted more than 3,000 people pretending to be her.

When she contacted LinkedIn about this occurrence, she said they told her, “Oh, you can remove all those invitations from your account manually. We don’t know what happened.”

Bloomberg included another person who said this has happened to them as well:

Jeffrey Barr of Livingston, New Jersey, said in an e-mail that he estimated LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts, inviting them to connect with him on the site.

“Some of the people I hadn’t talked to in five to 10 years, including several old girlfriends I had forgotten to delete,” he said.

LinkedIn told him he hadn’t unchecked a default setting allowing it to use the e-mails, he said.

The lawsuit complaint called these “endorsement emails,” alleging that they’re sent to contacts accessed from LinkedIn users’ external email accounts.

“LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn’s servers,” the complaint alleged. “LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”

LinkedIn’s Senior Director of Litigation Blake Lawitt said in a blog post Saturday the accusations are “without merit.”

“The lawsuit alleges that we ‘break into’ the email accounts of our members who choose to upload their email address books to LinkedIn,” Lawitt wrote. “Quite simply, this is not true, and with so much misinformation out there, we wanted to clear up a few things for our members.”

He continued with these bullet points:

  • We do not access your email account without your permission. Claims that we “hack” or “break into” members’ accounts are false.
  • We never deceive you by “pretending to be you” in order to access your email account.
  • We never send messages or invitations to join LinkedIn on your behalf to anyone unless you have given us permission to do so.

Lawitt acknowledged that the website does give users the option to “share your email contacts.” He said LinkedIn plans on doing “everything we can to make our communications about how to do this as clear as possible.”