Back to basics


Import contacts on LinkedIn

Jan 30, 2016
2 minute read

I have a LinkedIn profile that I rarely use. I regretted making an account early on because LinkedIn was notorious at sending you unwanted e-mails because you have to opt-out of dozens of different options sprinkled within their setting pages.

Once in a while I will log in because I still get (out of choice) e-mails when people want to connect or send me a message.

When I do log-in, I am reminded of that other reason I try and stay away from LinkedIn - privacy. Whatever fears you have of Facebook or Google, I found LinkedIn to be magnitudes more creepy.

The “People you may know” section particularly is pretty unsettling, as I only had e-mail contact with some people and we have no other connections. Sometimes I had a brief exchange over an e-mail thread and they are not actually in in my address book.

LinkedIn does allow you to import contacts from e-mail providers such as GMail. I want to say it is possible but extremely unlikely that I somehow allowed LinkedIn access to my GMail account. LinkedIn does have my GMail e-mail address because that is what I used to sign-up. Even if I was to entertain the idea that I did import my contacts using GMail, some of the people listed aren’t in my GMail address book.

The other possible situation is that some people imported their LinkedIn contacts and I happen to be in their address book. Based on email exchanges, this seems unlikely, but possible.

I started getting interested on whether they do collect e-mails when you import contacts from GMail, I read up on their Privacy Policy (which is actually very well done and includes summaries) and found something interesting. Emphasis is mine:

We make other tools available to sync information with our Services, and may also develop additional features that allow Members to use their account in conjunction with other third-party services. For example, our mobile applications allow you to sync your device’s calendar, email and/or contacts apps with our Services to show you the LinkedIn profiles of meeting attendees, email correspondents and/or your contacts.

Another example are software tools that allow you to see our and other public information about the people you email or meet with and leverage our Services to help you gain insights from and grow your network. If you grant these products (mobile applications or our other Services that sync external email and calendar services, such as “LinkedIn Connected”) permission to access your email and calendar accounts, they will access and may store some of your email header and calendar history information. Our products that sync with external email services may also temporarily cache message content for performance reasons, in a way that is unreadable by us and our service providers.

E-mail headers of course include the To and From fields. Of course you have to trust that they never read your e-mail contents ;)

Even though I personally did not use this tool to sync contacts, it’s pretty scary how many people did. I wonder if they knew what kind of access they were providing.