LinkedIn Exploits Links Out

Sorry to everybody who uses Morisso Taieb’s wonderful LinkedIn group for people working in revenue assurance, but they will not be syndicating talkRA articles any more. It has nothing to do with Morisso, who is doing a great job and who immediately responded when I asked him to stop the republication of the talkRA RSS feed. Why did I ask Morisso to stop it? I have written previously how LinkedIn is a semi-closed environment; it takes content in from other sources, but gives none out. When LinkedIn first allowed their groups to syndicate RSS, it was done by publishing an excerpt and including a link to the full page. That was fine by me, as I noted at the time, even though the flow would never go the other way. However, LinkedIn did not stop there. They then changed the outbound links to show a special “LinkedIn” frame above the pages of other websites, encouraging users to discuss about the pages on LinkedIn. Hmmm… like websites devoted to discussion want all the comments about their content to end up on LinkedIn’s (closed) site instead of their own (open) pages. It is a cheek, and a kind of unwelcome advertising that LinkedIn is placing over the top of content that LinkedIn exploits for free. Their frame says the page below is “provided by LinkedIn”. Untrue. They had nothing to do with providing the content. They did not write the content. The content is provided using a web server that they did not pay for, and do not control. The same content is available to anybody in the world who goes to the right URL. So what is provided by LinkedIn? A link that points to it. And the person who types in the URL will be somebody like Morisso who added the one for talkRA to his group. What chutzpah for LinkedIn to claim they provided anything, other than providing themselves with a greedy way to profit from other people’s material.

The unwelcome advert – an ‘ActionBar’ in LinkedIn’s strange terminology – was plugged on LinkedIn’s own blog. After congratulating themselves, they added the following words:

As always – we look forward to and appreciate your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment on this blog…

So I did comment. My comment did not get published. It seems LinkedIn love to facilitate conversations on their site, unless they happen to be critical of LinkedIn’s business ethics. For those of you interested in the content that LinkedIn are not so keen to republish, here is my comment about the LinkedIn ‘ActionBar’:

Nice idea – if you run a greedy business that wants to steal content, traffic and life from other websites.

There must be thousands of websites, like mine, that offer the ability to discuss and comment on specific topics without adverts. They are not run for profit, and they do not look like the “news” examples you selectively show in your screenshots, but their RSS feeds on posts and comments can be syndicated by LinkedIn groups in just the same way. By syndicating the RSS feed into LinkedIn’s closed loop, you have a simple, crude but effective attempt to hijack the content of those sites. Adding a frame is just the next step in trying to keep LinkedIn users on LinkedIn – whilst greedily taking content from outside.

The content of the RSS feed and the content of my website is copyright. I never gave permission for it to be syndicated on LinkedIn, and I do not want it to be syndicated on LinkedIn. Taking a short excerpt and a pointer back to the source is reasonable, but then adding an ugly frame to advertise LinkedIn is going too far. Worse still, as others have noticed, the frame often seems to be screwed up. Nine out of ten viewers will assume the problem is with the original site, and not with LinkedIn’s clumsy attempts to grow its revenue streams.

If LinkedIn was an ethical business, we would see copyright holders having the facility to object to this kind of abuse, in the same way that intellectual property is protected on websites that allow people to post videos and music. Problem is, those protections are given to help big business stop abuse by little guys. This new issue with LinkedIn syndication is about protecting the rights of ordinary guys who are abused by a big business. Shame on LinkedIn.

Remember, this content is brought to you on a site that requires no registration and prints every point of view, without censorship. The authors on LinkedIn share their material, but they are not giving it away, and they retain copyright. The internet is here so we can share. People who take, but do not give back, are the enemies of a healthy, vibrant and free internet. Help us to keep the internet open, and not just open for business.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.