Repeated emails from an online service like LinkedIn are more than just annoying, a federal judge suggested this week, in a ruling that said such emails “could injure users’ reputations” by allowing the users’ contacts to think they are spammers.
In legal terms, the finding by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh isn’t the final word in the case. And it comes in a 39-page ruling, issued Thursday, which actually took LinkedIn’s side in dismissing some aspects of a would-be class-action lawsuit. But Koh refused to grant LinkedIn’s motion to dismiss the entire case, which means the plaintiffs will have a chance to move forward with at least some of their claims.
In this one, a group of LinkedIn users are complaining that the online professional network violated several laws by sending out a slew of emails to people listed in the users’ address books, inviting those people to join the service too. The plaintiffs contend that LinkedIn’s registration process is confusing and doesn’t make it clear that all those emails will be sent.
Koh disagreed on that point, ruling that LinkedIn does provide a variety of notices and opportunities to say “No thanks” when it offers to invite a new user’s email contacts to join the service.
But when it comes to LinkedIn’s practice of sending a second and third follow-up invitation to each contact who resists the first entreaty, Koh suggested a case could be made that LinkedIn was going too far.
“Nothing in LinkedIn’s disclosures alerts users to the possibility that their contacts will receive not just one invitation, but three,” the judge wrote, adding that it’s plausible for users to think there would be no follow-up messages sent without their authorization.
Where’s the harm in that? Koh wrote:
“Specifically, the second and third … emails could injure users’ reputations by allowing contacts to think that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or who are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join the LinkedIn network … Individuals who receive second and third email invitations to join LinkedIn after declining one or two previous email invitations to join LinkedIn from the same sender may become annoyed at the sender, which could be professionally or personally harmful.”
Koh hasn’t yet decided whether to certify the case as a class action, but it sounds like this one isn’t going away. Here’s the ruling.