LinkedIn, the social networking site popular among professionals, recently filed suit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California against unknown users who deployed automated software programs known as “bots” to register thousands of fake LinkedIn profiles and “scrape” LinkedIn’s servers for member data.

The complaint alleges that the bot users scraped LinkedIn’s member data to create a service that would compete with LinkedIn Recruiter, a service used by 16,000 clients and companies, including 90 of the Fortune 100 companies to search for job candidates.  LinkedIn alleges that the fake member profiles damages “the integrity and effectiveness of LinkedIn’s professional network,” including the “accuracy and integrity” of the information contained on the site.  LinkedIn argues that members trust LinkedIn and expect that members’ professional profiles are legitimate.

One of LinkedIn’s claims is that the unknown users who created and deployed the bots users “willfully, repeatedly, and systematically” breached the LinkedIn User Agreement by registering thousands of fake LinkedIn profiles and copying data from many member profile pages.  As is typical of most online services, a LinkedIn user must, as part of creating an account, affirmatively agree to the User Agreement: “By clicking Join LinkedIn, you agree to LinkedIn’s User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy”.  The User Agreement expressly states that it is a “legally binding agreement with LinkedIn Corporation” and includes provisions that specifically bar members from owning multiple accounts, creating false identities or using any “means or processes” to harvest data from LinkedIn’s website and services.  In addition to its presentation on the “Join” webpage, the User Agreement is displayed through a link on LinkedIn’s homepage.

While the facts of the complaint seem to clearly indicate that the bot creators violated LinkedIn’s User Agreement, we are interested to see how the court treats the breach of contract claim because it may shed light on how businesses can help to ensure the enforceability of their online agreements.  We will further explore the enforceability of online agreements in future posts.

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