Category Archives: LinkedIn

LinkedIn adds celebrate, love, insightful and curious reactions to spur more engagement

Sometimes a “like” in social media doesn’t give the full picture, or you’re just not inspired enough to write a fuller response. Today, LinkedIn addressed that issue on its own platform, with the introduction of four new reactions people can use in response to posts in their timelines. In addition to “like,” you can now react in four other ways to posts with icons that indicate “celebrate,” “love,” “insightful” and “curious.”

I find it “curious” and “insightful” that there isn’t a “haha” among them. Not many laughs or entertainment to be found on LinkedIn, I guess?

The reactions are rolling out globally to the company’s nearly 600 million users starting today, to both the desktop and mobile apps.

LinkedIn’s rollout comes in the wake of similar moves on other social platforms, perhaps most noticeably on Facebook, which launched an expanded set of reaction buttons more than three years ago. LinkedIn has never been one for jumping quickly to new trends, but this nevertheless shows that it’s listening and understands that it has to provide more to users to make its platform more dynamic, to help spur more engagement (and in turn more people posting to the platform).

LinkedIn product manager Cissy Chen notes that the company based its selection of reactions on the kinds of conversations that people are already having on LinkedIn (and probably the kinds of conversations that LinkedIn would like to continue to encourage), and also what people were writing most commonly when providing one to two-word terse responses.

Typically, posts range from people announcing new professional roles or milestones to sharing learnings from somewhere else — hence the leaning to two reactions giving encouragement, and two more contemplative reactions.

LinkedIn’s wider goals in providing tools like this are to continue to get more users engaged on its platform.

In the years since Microsoft acquired the company, I’d argue that the iterations the company has made to different aspects of its service have decreased somewhat. That makes it more open to other companies coming in and creating more useful and modern replacements in some of its most lucrative areas of business, such as recruitment.

On the other hand, platforms like Facebook have been quick to add ever more features and functionality. While Facebook is far from providing the same kind of recruiter tools, or database of working professionals and their experience, its own efforts in recruitment services and mentoring are direct competitors to LinkedIn’s social tools for the working world, and provide a kind of lite alternative. So for LinkedIn to continue to keep people around, and to attract new users who might otherwise consider alternatives, even incremental additions like this one can make a difference.

Privacy complaints received by tech giants’ favorite EU watchdog up more than 2x since GDPR

A report by the lead data watchdog for a large number of tech giants operating in Europe shows a significant increase in privacy complaints and data breach notifications since the region’s updated privacy framework came into force last May.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC)’s annual report, published today, covers the period May 25, aka the day the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, to December 31 2018 and shows the DPC received more than double the amount of complaints post-GDPR vs the first portion of 2018 prior to the new regime coming in: With 2,864 and 1,249 complaints received respectively.

That makes a total of 4,113 complaints for full year 2018 (vs just 2,642 for 2017). Which is a year on year increase of 36 per cent.

But the increase pre- and post-GDPR is even greater — 56 per cent — suggesting the regulation is working as intended by building momentum and support for individuals to exercise their fundamental rights.

“The phenomenon that is the [GDPR] has demonstrated one thing above all else: people’s interest in and appetite for understanding and controlling use of their personal data is anything but a reflection of apathy and fatalism,” writes Helen Dixon, Ireland’s commissioner for data protection.

She adds that the rise in the number of complaints and queries to DPAs across the EU since May 25 demonstrates “a new level of mobilisation to action on the part of individuals to tackle what they see as misuse or failure to adequately explain what is being done with their data”.

While Europe has had online privacy rules since 1995 a weak regime of enforcement essentially allowed them to be ignored for decades — and Internet companies to grab and exploit web users’ data without full regard and respect for European’s privacy rights.

But regulators hit the reset button last year. And Ireland’s data watchdog is an especially interesting agency to watch if you’re interested in assessing how GDPR is working, given how many tech giants have chosen to place their international data flows under the Irish DPC’s supervision.

More cross-border complaints

“The role places an important duty on the DPC to safeguard the data protection rights of hundreds of millions of individuals across the EU, a duty that the GDPR requires the DPC to fulfil in cooperation with other supervisory authorities,” the DPC writes in the report, discussing its role of supervisory authority for multiple tech multinationals and acknowledging both a “greatly expanded role under the GDPR” and a “significantly increased workload”.

A breakdown of GDPR vs Data Protection Act 1998 complaint types over the report period suggests complaints targeted at multinational entities have leapt up under the new DP regime.

For some complaint types the old rules resulted in just 2 per cent of complaints being targeted at multinationals vs close to a quarter (22 per cent) in the same categories under GDPR.

It’s the most marked difference between the old rules and the new — underlining the DPC’s expanded workload in acting as a hub (and often lead supervisory agency) for cross-border complaints under GDPR’s one-stop shop mechanism.

The category with the largest proportions of complaints under GDPR over the report period was access rights (30%) — with the DPC receiving a full 582 complaints related to people feeling they’re not getting their due data. Access rights was also most complained about under the prior data rules over this period.

Other prominent complaint types continue to be unfair processing of data (285 GDPR complaints vs 178 under the DPA); disclosure (217 vs 138); and electronic direct marketing (111 vs 36).

EU policymakers’ intent with GDPR is to redress the imbalance of weakly enforced rights — including by creating new opportunities for enforcement via a regime of supersized fines. (GDPR allows for penalties as high as up to 4 per cent of annual turnover, and in January the French data watchdog slapped Google with a $57M GDPR penalty related to transparency and consent — albeit still far off that theoretical maximum.)

Importantly, the regulation also introduced a collective redress option which has been adopted by some EU Member States.

This allows for third party organizations such as consumer rights groups to lodge data protection complaints on individuals’ behalf. The provision has led to a number of strategic complaints being filed by organized experts since last May (including in the case of the aforementioned Google fine) — spinning up momentum for collective consumer action to counter rights erosion. Again that’s important in a complex area that remains difficult for consumers to navigate without expert help.

For upheld complaints the GDPR ‘nuclear option’ is not fines though; it’s the ability for data protection agencies to order data controllers to stop processing data.

That remains the most significant tool in the regulatory toolbox. And depending on the outcome of various ongoing strategic GDPR complaints it could prove hugely significant in reshaping what data experts believe are systematic privacy incursions by adtech platform giants.

And while well-resourced tech giants may be able to factor in even very meaty financial penalties, as just a cost of doing a very lucrative business, data-focused business models could be far more precarious if processors can suddenly be slapped with an order to limit or even cease processing data. (As indeed Facebook’s business just has in Germany, where antitrust regulators have been liaising with privacy watchdogs.)

Data breach notifications also up

GDPR also shines a major spotlight on security — requiring privacy by design and default and introducing a universal requirement for swiftly reporting data breaches across the bloc, again with very stiff penalties for non-compliance.

On the data breach front, the Irish DPC says it received a total of 3,687 data breach notifications between May 25 and December 31 last year — finding just four per cent (145 cases) did not meet the definition of a personal-data breach set out in GDPR. That means it recorded a total of 3,542 valid data protection breaches over the report period — which it says represents an increase of 27 per cent on 2017 breach report figures.

“As in other years, the highest category of data breaches notified under the GDPR were classified as Unauthorised Disclosures and accounted for just under 85% of the total data-breach notifications received between 25 May and 31 December 2018,” it notes, adding: “The majority occurred in the private sector (2,070).”

More than 4,000 data breach notifications were recorded by the watchdog for full year 2018, the report also states.

For the earlier 2018 period, from January 1 to May 24 2018, a DPC spokesman told us it recorded 1198 valid data security breaches — making the full year total 4740.

The DPC further reveals that it was notified of 38 personal data breaches involving 11 multinational technology companies during the post-GDPR period of 2018. Which means breaches involving tech giants.

“A substantial number of these notifications involved the unauthorised disclosure of, and unauthorised access to, personal data as a result of bugs in software supplied by data processors engaged by the organisations,” it writes, saying it opened several investigations as a result (such as following the Facebook Token breach in September 2018).

Open probes of tech giants

As of 31 December 2018, the DPC says it had 15 investigations open in relation to multinational tech companies’ compliance with GDPR.

Below is the full list of the DPC’s currently open investigations of multinationals — including the tech giant under scrutiny; the origin of the inquiry; and the issues being examined:

  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Complaint-based inquiry: “Right of Access and Data Portability. Examining whether Facebook has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the right of access to personal data in the Facebook ‘Hive’ database and portability of “observed” personal data”
  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing in relation to Facebook’s Terms of Service and Data Policy. Examining whether Facebook has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data of individuals using the Facebook platform.”
  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing. Examining whether Facebook has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data in the context of behavioural analysis and targeted advertising on its platform.”
  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Own-volition inquiry: “Facebook September 2018 token breach. Examining whether Facebook Ireland has discharged its GDPR obligations to implement organisational and technical measures to secure and safeguard the personal data of its users.”
  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Own-volition inquiry: “Facebook September 2018 token breach. Examining Facebook’s compliance with the GDPR’s breach notification obligations.”
  • Facebook Inc. — Own-volition inquiry: “Facebook September 2018 token breach. Examining whether Facebook Inc. has discharged its GDPR obligations to implement organizational and technical measures to secure and safeguard the personal data of its users.”
  • Facebook Ireland Limited — Own-volition inquiry: “Commenced in response to large number of breaches notified to the DPC during the period since 25 May 2018 (separate to the token breach). Examining whether Facebook has discharged its GDPR obligations to implement organisational and technical measures to secure and safeguard the personal data of its users.”
  • Instagram (Facebook Ireland Limited) — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing in relation to Instagram’s Terms of Use and Data Policy. Examining whether Instagram has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data of individuals using the Instagram platform.”
  • WhatsApp Ireland Limited — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing in relation to WhatsApp’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Examining whether WhatsApp has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data of individuals using the WhatsApp platform.”
  • WhatsApp Ireland Limited — Own-volition inquiry: “Transparency. Examining whether WhatsApp has discharged its GDPR transparency obligations with regard to the provision of information and the transparency of that information to both users and non-users of WhatsApp’s services, including information provided to data subjects about the processing of information between WhatsApp and other Facebook companies.”
  • Twitter International Company — Complaint-based inquiry: “Right of Access. Examining whether Twitter has discharged its obligations in respect of the right of access to links accessed on Twitter.”
  • Twitter International Company — Own-volition inquiry: “Commenced in response to the large number of breaches notified to the DPC during the period since 25 May 2018. Examining whether Twitter has discharged its GDPR obligations to implement organisational and technical measures to secure and safeguard the personal data of its users.”
  • LinkedIn Ireland Unlimited Company — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing. Examining whether LinkedIn has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data in the context of behavioural analysis and targeted advertising on its platform.”
  • Apple Distribution International — Complaint-based inquiry: “Lawful basis for processing. Examining whether Apple has discharged its GDPR obligations in respect of the lawful basis on which it relies to process personal data in the context of behavioural analysis and targeted advertising on its platform.”
  • Apple Distribution International — Complaint-based inquiry: “Transparency. Examining whether Apple has discharged its GDPR transparency obligations in respect of the information contained in its privacy policy and online documents regarding the processing of personal data of users of its services.”

“The DPC’s role in supervising the data-processing operations of the numerous large data-rich multinational companies — including technology internet and social media companies — with EU headquarters located in Ireland changed immeasurably on 25 May 2018,” the watchdog acknowledges.

“For many, including Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Dropbox, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Oath [disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon Media Group; aka Oath/AOL], WhatsApp, MTCH Technology and Yelp, the DPC acts as lead supervisory authority under the GDPR OSS [one-stop shop] facility.”

The DPC notes in the report that between May 25 and December 31 2018 it received 136 cross-border processing complaints through the regulation’s OSS mechanism (i.e. which had been lodged by individuals with other EU data protection authorities).

A breakdown of these (likely) tech giant focused GDPR complaints shows a strong focus on consent, right of erasure, right of access and the lawfulness of data processing:

Breakdown of cross-border complaint types received by the DPC under GDPR’s OSS mechanism

While the Irish DPC acts as the lead supervisor for many high profile GDPR complaints which relate to how tech giants are handling people’s data, it’s worth emphasizing that the OSS mechanism does not mean Ireland is sitting in sole judgement on Silicon Valley’s giants’ rights incursions in Europe.

The mechanism allows for other DPAs to be involved in these cross-border complaints.

And the European Data Protection Board, the body that works with all the EU Member States’ DPAs to help ensure consistent application of the regulation, can trigger a dispute resolution process if a lead agency considers it cannot implement a concerned agency objection. The aim is to work against forum shopping.

In a section on “EU cooperation”, the DPC further writes:

Our fellow EU regulators, alongside whom we sit on the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), follow the activities and results of the Irish DPC closely, given that a significant number of people in every EU member state are potentially impacted by processing activities of the internet companies located in Ireland. EDPB activity is intense, with monthly plenary meetings and a new system of online data sharing in relation to cross-border processing cases rolled out between the authorities. The DPC has led on the development of EDPB guidance on arrangements for Codes of Conduct under the GDPR and these should be approved and published by the EDPB in Q1 of 2019. The DPC looks forward to industry embracing Codes of Conduct and raising the bar in individual sectors in terms of standards of data protection and transparency. Codes of Conduct are important because they will more comprehensively reflect the context and reality of data-processing activities in a given sector and provide clarity to those who sign up to the standards that need to be attained in addition to external monitoring by an independent body. It is clarity of standards that will drive real results.

Over the reported period the watchdog also reveals that it issued 23 formal requests seeking detailed information on compliance with various aspects of the GDPR from tech giants, noting too that since May 25 it has engaged with platforms on “a broad range of issues” — citing the following examples to give a flavor of these concerns:

  • Google on the processing of location data
  • Facebook on issues such as the transfer of personal data from third-party apps to Facebook and Facebook’s collaboration with external researchers
  • Microsoft on the processing of telemetry data collected by its Office product
  • WhatsApp on matters relating to the sharing of personal data with other Facebook companies

“Supervision engagement with these companies on the matters outlined is ongoing,” the DPC adds of these issues.

Adtech sector “must comply” with GDPR 

Talking of ongoing action, a GDPR complaint related to the security of personal data that’s systematically processed to power behavioral advertising is another open complaint on the DPC’s desk.

The strategic complaint was filed by a number of individuals in multiple EU countries (including Ireland) last fall. Since then the individuals behind the complaints have continued to submit and publish evidence they argue bolsters their case against the behavioral ad targeting industry (principally Google and the IAB which set the spec involved in the real-time bidding (RTB) system).

The Irish DPC makes reference to this RTB complaint in the annual report, giving the adtech industry what amounts to a written warning that while the advertising ecosystem is “complex”, with multiple parties involved in “high-speed, voluminous transactions” related to bidding for ad space and serving ad content “the protection of personal data is a prerequisite to the processing of any personal data within this ecosystem and ultimately the sector must comply with the standards set down by the GDPR”.

The watchdog also reports that it has engaged with “several stakeholders, including publishers and data brokers on one side, and privacy advocates and affected individuals on the other”, vis-a-vis the RTB complaint, and says it will continue prioritizing its scrutiny of the sector in 2019 — “in cooperation with its counterparts at EU level so as to ensure a consistent approach across all EU member states”.

It goes on to say that some of its 15 open investigations into tech giants will both conclude this year and “contribute to answering some of the questions relating to this complex area”. So, tl;dr, watch this space.

Responding to the DPC’s comments on the RTB complaint, Dr Johnny Ryan, chief policy and industrial relations officer of private browser Brave — and also one of the complainants — told us they expect the DPC to act “urgently”.

“We have brought our complaint before the DPC and other European regulators because there is a dire need to fix adtech so that it’s works safely,” he told TechCrunch. “The DPC itself recognizes that online advertising is a priority. The IAB and Google online ‘ad auction’ system enables companies to broadcast what every single person online reads, watches, and listens to online to countless parties. There is no control over what happens to these data. The evidence that we have submitted to the DPC shows that this occurs hundreds of billions of times a day.”

“In view of the upcoming European elections, it is particularly troubling that the IAB and Google’s systems permit voters to be profiled in this way,” he added. “Clearly, this infringes the security and integrity principles of the GDPR, and we expect the DPC to act urgently.”

The IAB has previously rejected the complaints as “false”, arguing any security risk is “theoretical”; while Google has said it has policies in place to prohibit advertisers from targeting sensitive categories of data. But the RTB complaint itself pivots on GDPR’s security requirements which demand that personal data be processed in a manner that “ensures appropriate security”, including “protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss”.

So the security of the RTB system is the core issue which the Irish DPC, along with agencies in the UK and Poland, will have to grapple with as a priority this year.

The complainants have also said they intend to file additional complaints in more markets across Europe, so more DPAs are likely to join the scrutiny of RTB, as concerned supervisory agencies, which could increase pressure on the Irish DPC to act.

Schrems II vs Facebook 

The watchdog’s report also includes an update on long-running litigation filed by European privacy campaigner Max Schrems concerning a data transfer mechanism known as standard contractual clauses (SCCs) — and originally only targeted at Facebook’s use of the mechanism.

The DPC decided to refer Schrems’ original challenge to the Irish courts — which have since widened the action by referring a series of legal questions up to the EU’s top court with (now) potential implications for the legality of the EU’s ‘flagship’ Privacy Shield data transfer mechanism.

That was negotiated following the demise of its predecessor Safe Harbor, in 2015, also via a Schrems legal challenge, going on to launch in August 2016 — despite ongoing concerns from data experts. Privacy Shield is now used by close to 4,500 companies to authorize transfers of EU users’ personal data to the US.

So while Schrems’ complaint about SCCs (sometimes also called “model contract clauses”) was targeted at Facebook’s use of them the litigation could end up having major implications for very many more companies if Privacy Shield itself comes unstuck.

More recently Facebook has sought to block the Irish judges’ referral of legal questions to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) — winning leave to appeal last summer (though judges did not stay the referral in the meanwhile).

In its report the DPC notes that the substantive hearing of Facebook’s appeal took place over January 21, 22 and 23 before a five judge Supreme Court panel.

“Oral arguments were made on behalf of Facebook, the DPC, the U.S. Government and Mr Schrems,” it writes. “Some of the central questions arising from the appeal include the following: can the Supreme Court revisit the facts found by the High Court relating to US law? (This arises from allegations by Facebook and the US Government that the High Court judgment, which underpins the reference made to the CJEU, contains various factual errors concerning US law).

“If the Supreme Court considers that it may do so, further questions will then arise for the Court as to whether there are in fact errors in the judgment and if so, whether and how these should be addressed.”

“At the time of going to print there is no indication as to when the Supreme Court judgment will be delivered,” it adds. “In the meantime, the High Court’s reference to the CJEU remains valid and is pending before the CJEU.”

LinkedIn forced to ‘pause’ mentioned in the news feature in Europe after complaints about ID mix-ups

LinkedIn has been forced to ‘pause’ a feature in Europe in which the platform emails members’ connections when they’ve been ‘mentioned in the news’.

This follows a number of data protection complaints after LinkedIn’s algorithms incorrectly matched members to news articles — triggering an internal review of the feature. LinkedIn told us it subsequently decided to suspend the feature in Europe.

The LinkedIn help center currently displays the following European caveat regarding the feature:

At this time, members in Designated Countries (including European Union, European Economic Area, Switzerland) may receive notifications when their connections and members they follow in other regions are mentioned (subject to member settings), but we do not send Mentioned in the News notifications that relate to members based in Designated Countries. We continue to evaluate coverage of additional regions, and encourage members to share relevant articles from their homepage.

The decision to pause processing appears as a case study in the ‘Technology Multinationals Supervision’ section of an annual report published today by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). Although the report does not explicitly name LinkedIn — but we’ve confirmed it is the professional social network in question.

We reached out to LinkedIn with questions and it pointed us to this blog post where it confirms: “We are pausing our Mentioned in the News feature for our EU members while we reevaluate its effectiveness.”

LinkedIn adds there that it’s reviewing the accuracy of the feature, writing:

As referenced in the Irish Data Protection Commission’s report, we received useful feedback from our members about the feature and as a result are evaluating the accuracy and functionality of Mentioned in the News for all members.

The blog post also points users to a page where they can find out more about the ‘mentioned in the news’ feature, and get information on how to manage their LinkedIn email notification settings.

In the DPC report, the watchdog cites “two complaints about a feature on a professional networking platform” after LinkedIn incorrectly associated the members with media articles that were not actually about them.

“In one of the complaints, a media article that set out details of the private life and unsuccessful career of a person of the same name as the complainant was circulated to the complainant’s connections and followers by the data controller,” the DPC writes, noting the complainant initially complained to the company itself but did not receive a satisfactory response — hence taking up the matter with the regulator.

“The complainant stated that the article had been detrimental to their professional standing and had resulted in the loss of contracts for their business,” it adds.

“The second complaint involved the circulation of an article that the complainant believed could be detrimental to future career prospects, which the data controller had not vetted correctly.”

LinkedIn appears to have been matching members to news articles by simple name matching — with obvious potential for identity mix-ups between people with shared names.

“It was clear from the complaints that matching by name only was insufficient, giving rise to data protection concerns, primarily the lawfulness, fairness and accuracy of the personal data processing utilised by the ‘Mentions in the news’ feature,” the DPC writes.

However a LinkedIn spokesman told us there is an algorithm involved in matching members to media articles — which he said is based on technology LinkedIn acquired when it bought machine learning startup Newsle back in 2014.

He also pointed to a LinkedIn help centre article, where the company acknowledges the imperfect capabilities of the feature — writing: “While this algorithm is good, it’s not perfect. It’s a good idea to check that the person or organization in an article is the same person or organization you’re following. If you see any news item associated with the wrong person or organization (or any offensive or inappropriate content in a news item), please report it by clicking the Wrong Person or Wrong Organization flag.”

It’s not clear how LinkedIn can tweak an imperfect matching algorithm to ensure it doesn’t attract similar complaints in future if it gets identities mixed up again. The DPC notes only that it decided to suspend the feature “pending improvements to safeguard its members’ data”.

It’s not the first privacy black mark against LinkedIn in Europe.

Late last year, in its early annual report, on the pre-GDPR portion of 2018, the Irish DPC revealed it had investigated complaints about LinkedIn related to it targeting non-users with adverts for its service.

The DPC found the company had obtained emails for 18 million people for whom it did not have consent to process their data. In that case LinkedIn agreed to cease processing the data entirely.

That complaint also led the DPC to audit LinkedIn. It then found a further privacy problem, discovering the company had been using its social graph algorithms to try to build suggested networks of compatible professional connections for non-members.

The regulator ordered LinkedIn to cease this “pre-compute processing” of non-members’ data and delete all personal data associated with it prior to GDPR coming into force.

LinkedIn said it had “voluntarily changed our practices as a result”.

In its latest annual report, covering May 25 to December 31 last year, the Irish DPC also records it has an open investigation of LinkedIn following a GDPR complaint related to the lawful basis it is using for processing personal data in the context of behavioural analysis and targeted ads on its platform.

This report was updated with a correction; LinkedIn was not ordered to suspend the feature by the DPC, as we originally reported but chose to do so following a review it carried out of the feature. We also included additional context from LinkedIn regarding the matching algorithm used to power the feature. In a further update we included details of the Irish DPC’s open investigation into LinkedIn’s legal basis for processing personal data for targeted ads and behavioral analysis

LinkedIn debuts LinkedIn Live, a new live video broadcast service

LinkedIn — the social network for the working world with close to 600 million users globally — says that video is the fastest-growing format on its platform alongside original written work, shared news and other content. Now it’s taking its next step in the medium in earnest.

Today, the company is launching live video, giving people and organizations the ability to broadcast real-time video to select groups, or to the LinkedIn world at large.

Launching in beta first in the US, LinkedIn Live (as the product is called) will be invite-only. In coming weeks, LinkedIn will also post a contact form for others who want to get in on the action. It’s not clear when and if LinkedIn will make it possible for everyone to create LinkedIn Live videos, but if you consider how it developed its publishing features for written work, that will come later. too.

Initial live content that LinkedIn hopes to broadcast lines up with the kind of subject matter you might already see in LinkedIn’s news feed: the plan is to cover conferences, product announcements, Q&As and other events led by influencers and mentors, office hours from a big tech company, earnings calls, graduation and awards ceremonies, and more.

And to underscore how LinkedIn is keen to develop this — especially in its first phase — not as rough-and-ready user-generated content, but as streams of the kinds of videos that fit with its wider ethos, it has selected several third-party developers of live broadcasting streaming services that creators will work with to create and post more polished live video on LinkedIn.

These include Wirecast, Switcher Studio, Wowza Media Systems, Socialive, and Brandlive, “with more to come in the following weeks,” LinkedIn said.

There is another technical partner for LinkedIn’s live video effort, too: Microsoft, whose Azure Media Services, part of its cloud division, is providing encoding. Although Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in 2016, it’s mostly kept a distance in terms of knitting together product development between the two, so this is a notable exception. Skype, incidentally, is not part of this video effort.

Better late than never?

Compared to its competitors in the social networking sphere, LinkedIn has been a late bloomer when it comes to video.

Amid developments from competitors like Twitter and Facebook going back years to bring more engagement to its platforms with the use of moving pictures, the Microsoft-owned LinkedIn introduced its first native video features only in the summer of 2017.

But in the 17 months since launching video features, LinkedIn has seen a big boost in traffic and revenues from (non-live) video on its platform.

“Video is the fastest growing format on our platform right now, and the one most likely to get people talking,” said Pete Davies, the head of consumer products at LinkedIn. He and LinkedIn declined to give specific figures in terms of how many video creators or viewers there are, except to note that “millions” of LinkedIn members have used the feature.

Davies said that live video has been a big request — not least, I’d wager, because it is such a prominent part of how video is being used on other social platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, putting the functionality front of mind.

“Live has been the most requested feature,” he said. These other social platforms are serving as a template of sorts: as with these other platforms, users can “like” videos as they are being broadcast, with the likes floating along the screen. Viewers can ask questions or make suggestions in the comments in real-time. Hosts can moderate those comments in real-time, too, to remove harassing or other messages, Davies added.

There may be another reason beyond user requests for why LinkedIn is expanding video: it’s proving to be a strong engine for engagement and revenue growth at the company.

So far, the only monetization that LinkedIn has introduced around video is for video advertising. While Microsoft does not break out how much LinkedIn brings in in advertising revenues, much less video advertising, Microsoft reported in its last quarterly earnings that revenues at LinkedIn were up 29 percent with a reference to growing its ads business specifically: “with record levels of engagement highlighted by LinkedIn sessions growth of 30 percent.”

That it seems, is directly coming from its video products: LinkedIn tells me that video ads earn 30 percent more comments per impression than non-video ads and that LinkedIn members spend almost 3 times more time watching video ads compared to time spent with static Sponsored Content.

With LinkedIn looking at tapping into unique content with LinkedIn Live, there is a clear opportunity for the company to explore other ways of monetizing the content beyond ads. For example, it could charge viewers for unique experiences like conferences, or make certain Live events part of the company’s paid tier to lure in more premium subscribers. On the part of the broadcasters, it could potentially provide fee-based services to provide a platform to broadcast certain content like video-based earnings reports.

LinkedIn wouldn’t comment on future monetization plans and for now isn’t even putting in video ads into LinkedIn Live videos. “That will come down the road but for right now we are focused on awesome use cases,” said Peter Roybal, head of video product management, in an interview. “This could even be a way to try out some new ideas.”

German antitrust office limits Facebook’s data-gathering

A lengthy antitrust probe into how Facebook gathers data on users has resulted in Germany’s competition watchdog banning the social network giant from combining data on users across its own suite of social platforms without their consent.

The investigation of Facebook data-gathering practices began in March 2016.

The decision by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, announced today, also prohibits Facebook from gathering data on users from third party websites — such as via tracking pixels and social plug-ins — without their consent.

Although the decision does not yet have legal force and Facebook has said it’s appealing. The BBC reports that the company has a month to challenge the decision before it comes into force in Germany.

In both cases — i.e. Facebook collecting and linking user data from its own suite of services; and from third party websites — the Bundeskartellamt asserts that consent to data processing must be voluntary, so cannot be made a precondition of using Facebook’s service.

The company must therefore “adapt its terms of service and data processing accordingly”, it warns.

“Facebook’s terms of service and the manner and extent to which it collects and uses data are in violation of the European data protection rules to the detriment of users. The Bundeskartellamt closely cooperated with leading data protection authorities in clarifying the data protection issues involved,” it writes, couching Facebook’s conduct as “exploitative abuse”.

“Dominant companies may not use exploitative practices to the detriment of the opposite side of the market, i.e. in this case the consumers who use Facebook. This applies above all if the exploitative practice also impedes competitors that are not able to amass such a treasure trove of data,” it continues.

“This approach based on competition law is not a new one, but corresponds to the case-law of the Federal Court of Justice under which not only excessive prices, but also inappropriate contractual terms and conditions constitute exploitative abuse (so-called exploitative business terms).”

Commenting further in a statement, Andreas Mundt, president of the Bundeskartellamt, added: “In future, Facebook will no longer be allowed to force its users to agree to the practically unrestricted collection and assigning of non-Facebook data to their Facebook user accounts.

“The combination of data sources substantially contributed to the fact that Facebook was able to build a unique database for each individual user and thus to gain market power. In future, consumers can prevent Facebook from unrestrictedly collecting and using their data. The previous practice of combining all data in a Facebook user account, practically without any restriction, will now be subject to the voluntary consent given by the users.

“Voluntary consent means that the use of Facebook’s services must not be subject to the users’ consent to their data being collected and combined in this way. If users do not consent, Facebook may not exclude them from its services and must refrain from collecting and merging data from different sources.”

“With regard to Facebook’s future data processing policy, we are carrying out what can be seen as an internal divestiture of Facebook’s data,” Mundt added. 

Facebook has responded to the Bundeskartellamt’s decision with a blog post setting out why it disagrees. The company did not respond to specific questions we put to it.

One key consideration is that Facebook also tracks non-users via third party websites. Aka, the controversial issue of ‘shadow profiles’ — which both US and EU politicians questioned founder Mark Zuckerberg about last year.

Which raises the question of how it could comply with the decision on that front, if its appeal fails, given it has no obvious conduit for seeking consent from non-users to gather their data. (Facebook’s tracking of non-users has already previously been judged illegal elsewhere in Europe.)

The German watchdog says that if Facebook intends to continue collecting data from outside its own social network to combine with users’ accounts without consent it “must be substantially restricted”, suggesting a number of different criteria are feasible — such as restrictions including on the amount of data; purpose of use; type of data processing; additional control options for users; anonymization; processing only upon instruction by third party providers; and limitations on data storage periods.

Should the decision come to be legally enforced, the Bundeskartellamt says Facebook will be obliged to develop proposals for possible solutions and submit them to the authority which would then examine whether or not they fulfil its requirements.

While there’s lots to concern Facebook in this decision — which, it recently emerged, has plans to unify the technical infrastructure of its messaging platforms — it isn’t all bad for the company. Or, rather, it could have been worse.

The authority makes a point of saying the social network can continue to make the use of each of its messaging platforms subject to the processing of data generated by their use, writing: “It must be generally acknowledged that the provision of a social network aiming at offering an efficient, data-based business model funded by advertising requires the processing of personal data. This is what the user expects.”

Although it also does not close the door on further scrutiny of that dynamic, either under data protection law (as indeed, there is a current challenge to so called ‘forced consent‘ under Europe’s GDPR); or indeed under competition law.

“The issue of whether these terms can still result in a violation of data protection rules and how this would have to be assessed under competition law has been left open,” it emphasizes.

It also notes that it did not investigate how Facebook subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram collect and use user data — leaving the door open for additional investigations of those services.

On the wider EU competition law front, in recent years the European Commission’s competition chief has voiced concerns about data monopolies — going so far as to suggest, in an interview with the BBC last December, that restricting access to data might be a more appropriate solution to addressing monopolistic platform power vs breaking companies up.

In its blog post rejecting the German Federal Cartel Office’s decision, Facebook’s Yvonne Cunnane, head of data protection for its international business, Facebook Ireland, and Nikhil Shanbhag, director and associate general counsel, make three points to counter the decision, writing that: “The Bundeskartellamt underestimates the fierce competition we face in Germany, misinterprets our compliance with GDPR and undermines the mechanisms European law provides for ensuring consistent data protection standards across the EU.”

On the competition point, Facebook claims in the blog post that “popularity is not dominance” — suggesting the Bundeskartellamt found 40 per cent of social media users in Germany don’t use Facebook. (Not that that would stop Facebook from tracking those non-users around the mainstream Internet, of course.)

Although, in its announcement of the decision today, the Federal Cartel Office emphasizes that it found Facebook to have a dominant position in the Germany market — with (as of December 2018) 23M daily active users and 32M monthly active users, which it said constitutes a market share of more than 95 per cent (daily active users) and more than 80 per cent (monthly active users).

It also says it views social services such as Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter, and professional networks like LinkedIn and Xing, as only offering “parts of the services of a social network” — saying it therefore excluded them from its consideration of the market.

Though it adds that “even if these services were included in the relevant market, the Facebook group with its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp would still achieve very high market shares that would very likely be indicative of a monopolisation process”.

The mainstay of Facebook’s argument against the Bundeskartellamt decision appears to fix on the GDPR — with the company both seeking to claim it’s in compliance with the pan-EU data-protection framework (although its business faces multiple complaints under GDPR), while simultaneously arguing that the privacy regulation supersedes regional competition authorities.

So, as ever, Facebook is underlining that its regulator of choice is the Irish Data Protection Commission.

“The GDPR specifically empowers data protection regulators – not competition authorities – to determine whether companies are living up to their responsibilities. And data protection regulators certainly have the expertise to make those conclusions,” Facebook writes.

“The GDPR also harmonizes data protection laws across Europe, so everyone lives by the same rules of the road and regulators can consistently apply the law from country to country. In our case, that’s the Irish Data Protection Commission. The Bundeskartellamt’s order threatens to undermine this, providing different rights to people based on the size of the companies they do business with.”

The final plank of Facebook’s rebuttal focuses on pushing the notion that pooling data across services enhances the consumer experience and increases “safety and security” — the latter point being the same argument Zuckerberg used last year to defend ‘shadow profiles’ (not that he called them that) — with the company claiming now that it needs to pool user data across services to identify abusive behavior online; and disable accounts link to terrorism; child exploitation; and election interference.

So the company is essentially seeking to leverage (you could say ‘legally weaponize’) a smorgasbord of antisocial problems many of which have scaled to become major societal issues in recent years, at least in part as a consequence of the size and scale of Facebook’s social empire, as arguments for defending the size and operational sprawl of its business. Go figure.

In a statement provided to us last month ahead of the ruling, Facebook also said: “Since 2016, we have been in regular contact with the Bundeskartellamt and have responded to their requests. As we outlined publicly in 2017, we disagree with their views and the conflation of data protection laws and antitrust laws, and will continue to defend our position.” 

Separately, a 2016 privacy policy reversal by WhatsApp to link user data with Facebook accounts, including for marketing purposes, attracted the ire of EU privacy regulations — and most of these data flows remain suspended in the region.

An investigation by the UK’s data watchdog was only closed last year after Facebook committed not to link user data across the two services until it could do so in a way that complies with the GDPR.

Although the company does still share data for business intelligence and security purposes — which has drawn continued scrutiny from the French data watchdog.

LinkedIn now requires phone number verification for all users in China

LinkedIn’s China site looks and functions just like LinkedIn everywhere else, except now it asks users in the country to verify their identities through phone numbers.

The American company is requiring both new and existing users with a Chinese IP address to link mobile phone numbers to their accounts, TechCrunch noticed this week. LinkedIn had for months told its China-based users to provide mobile number details before sending them to the main page, but it had mercifully kept a little “Skip” button that let users avoid the fuss until at least last week.

“The real-name verification process for our LinkedIn China members is a legal requirement, which will also help improve the authenticity and credibility of online accounts,” a LinkedIn China spokesperson wrote back to TechCrunch in an email without addressing whether the process is new.

The spokesperson also links the policy to China’s burgeoning mobile industry: “Considering the growing popularity of mobile devices and mobile Internet, Chinese Internet users are adapted to registration with mobile phone numbers instead of email addresses. Almost all apps in the Chinese market are applying this trend to follow users’ habits.”

LinkedIn users with a Chinese IP address are greeted with an identity check tied to phone numbers. Screenshot: TechCrunch

In a note visible to China-based users only, LinkedIn explains that its identity check is a response to local regulations:

In some countries, local laws require that we confirm your identity before letting you engage with our Services. You must provide a mobile number and confirm receipt of our text. This phone number will be associated with your account and is accessible from your settings. If you choose to change or delete your confirmed mobile number your ability to access our Services in certain countries (e.g. China) will be blocked until you once again confirm your identity.

The California-based social network for professionals is a rare existence in China, where most mainstream global tech services like Facebook and Google have long remained blocked. Exceptions happen when foreign players bend to local rules. Microsoft’s Bing is accessible in China by censoring search results. Google also reportedly mulled a censored search service to re-enter China, an attempt that outraged its staff, politicians and speech advocates.

LinkedIn, which launched in China back in 2014, also hires so-called “information auditors” to keep close tabs on what users say and share in its China realm, according to a job post the firm listed on a local recruiting site. Like Google, LinkedIn caught flack for censoring content.

Real identity

Digital anonymity came to an end in China — at least in theory — when the sweeping Cyberspace Law took effect in 2017. The rules, which are meant to police information on the web, ordered websites to verify users’ real identities before letting them comment or use other tools, though users can still post with their screen names.

Large platforms like messenger WeChat and Twitter -like Weibo reacted swiftly by running real-name checks on users. The staple practice is to collect mobile phone numbers, which became a form of ID after China introduced a policy in 2010 requiring all buyers, foreign or Chinese, to show a piece of identification when they obtain their 11-digit identifiers. Google’s rumored search engine for China also asked for users’ phone numbers, according to The Intercept, which would make it easier for the government to monitor people’s queries.

LinkedIn’s China office in Beijing. Photo: LinkedIn China via Weibo

LinkedIn had been able to avoid the inevitable process for months. Perhaps the government had gone after the biggies first. After all, LinkedIn is only a fraction the size of its main rival in China. As of November, LinkedIn had 13 million monthly installs while its local peer Maimai had 95 monthly installs, data from iResearch shows. Both are dwarfed by WeChat’s more than 1 billion monthly active users.

As with other fledgling industries, laws often lag behind technological development, not to mention the enforcement thereof when the odds are against enterprises. Take ride-hailing for example. Unlicensed drivers and vehicles were still running on the roads two years after China legalized the sector. When the government steps up oversight recently, the market is hit by a shortage of drivers.

Clamping down

TechCrunch has come to understand that LinkedIn’s identity enforcement is linked to the latest wave of government crackdowns. “Slowly, the Chinese Communist Party has been pushing their collective thumbs down on, not only foreign internet companies but all internet companies. It just so happens that the recent political atmosphere is causing more scrutiny,” a source with insights into the matter told TechCrunch, asking not to be named.

Other websites are also indeed tightening controls over users. Many apps that previously allowed third-party logins from platforms like WeChat and Weibo also recently started collecting users’ phone numbers, several people who experienced the changes told TechCrunch.

Users can still get around LinkedIn’s real-name verification by switching on their virtual private network, known as VPN, that lets people surf the net from an overseas IP address and circumvent the Great Firewall, China’s internet censoring machinery. But the practice is becoming more challenging and the stakes are growing. By law, only government-approved providers can set up VPNs. In response to regulatory oversight, Apple pulled hundreds of VPN apps from its China App Store in 2017.

More recently, China’s telecoms regulator slapped a 1,000 yuan (around $146) fine on a man for accessing the “international net” through “illegal channels.” The case is one of the few known instances where individuals are punished for using VPNs, sending worrying signs to those jumping the Wall to surf the unfiltered world wide web.

LinkedIn cuts off email address exports with new privacy setting

A win for privacy on LinkedIn could be a big loss for businesses, recruiters, and anyone else expecting to be able to export the email addresses of their connections. LinkedIn just quietly introduced a new privacy setting that defaults to blocking other users from exporting your email address. That could prevent some spam, and protect users who didn’t realize anyone who they’re connected to could download their email address into a giant spreadsheet. But the launch of this new setting without warning or even a formal announcement could piss off users who’d invested tons of time into the professional networking site in hopes of contacting their connections outside of it.

TechCrunch was tipped off by a reader that emails were no longer coming through as part of LinkedIn’s Archive tool for exporting your data. Now LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that “This is a new setting that gives our members even more control their email address on LinkedIn. If you take a look at the setting titled “Who can download your email”, you’ll see we’ve added a more detailed setting that defaults to the strongest privacy option. Members can choose to change that setting based on their preference. This gives our members control over who can download their email address via a data export.”

That new option can be found under Settings & Privacy -> Privacy -> Who Can See My Email Address? This “Allow your connections to download your email [address of user] in their data export?” toggle defaults to ‘No’. Most users don’t know it exists since LinkedIn didn’t announce it, there’s merely been a folded up section added to the Help center on email visibility, and few might voluntarily change it to ‘Yes’ since there’s no explanation of why you’d want to. That means nearly no one’s email addresses will appear in LinkedIn Archive exports any more. Your connections will still be able to see your email address if they navigate to your profile, but they can’t grab those from their whole graph.

Facebook came to the same conclusion about restricting email exports back when it was in a data portability fight with Google in 2010. Facebook had been encouraging users to import their Gmail contacts, but refused to let users export their Friends’ email addresses. It argued that users own their own email addresses, but not those of their Friends, so they couldn’t be downloaded — though that stance conveniently prevented any other app from bootstrapping a competing social graph by importing your Facebook friend list in any usable way. I’ve argued that Facebook needs to make friend lists interoperable to give users choice about what apps they use, both because it’s the right thing to do but also because it could deter regulation.

On a social network like Facebook, barring email exports makes more sense. But on LinkedIn’s professional network where people are purposefully connecting with those they don’t know, and where exporting has always been allowed, making the change silently seems surreptitious. Perhaps LinkedIn didn’t want to bring attention to the fact it was allowing your email address to be slurped up by anyone you’re connected with given the current media climate of intense scrutiny regarding privacy in social tech. But trying to hide a change that’s massively impactful to businesses that rely on LinkedIn could erode the trust of its core users.

LinkedIn launches its own Snapchat Stories: ‘Student Voices’

The social media singularity continues with the arrival of Snapchat Stories-style slideshows on LinkedIn as the app grasps for relevance with a younger audience. LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that it plans to build Stories for more sets of users, but first it’s launching “Student Voices” just for university students in the U.S. The feature appears atop the LinkedIn home screen and lets students post short videos to their Campus Playlist. The videos (no photos allowed) disappear from the playlist after a week while staying permanently visible on a user’s own profile in the Recent Activity section. Students can tap through their school’s own slideshow and watch the Campus Playlists of nearby universities.

LinkedIn now confirms the feature is in testing, with product manager Isha Patel telling TechCrunch “Campus playlists are a new video feature that we’re currently rolling out to college students in the US. As we know, students love to use video to capture moments so we’ve created this new product to help them connect with one another around shared experiences on campus to help create a sense of community.” Student Voices was first spotted by social consultant Carlos Gil, and tipped by Socially Contented’s Cathy Wassell to Matt Navarra.

A LinkedIn spokesperson tells us the motive behind the feature is to get students sharing their academic experiences like internships, career fairs and class projects that they’d want to show off to recruiters as part of their personal brand. “It’s a great way for students to build out their profile and have this authentic content that shows who they are and what their academic and professional experiences have been. Having these videos live on their profile can help students grow their network, prepare for life after graduation, and help potential employers learn more about them,” Patel says.

But unfortunately that ignores the fact that Stories were originally invented for broadcasting off-the-cuff moments that disappear so you DON’T have to worry about their impact on your reputation. That dissonance might confuse users, discourage them from posting to Student Voices or lead them to assume their clips will disappear from their profile too — which could leave embarrassing content exposed to hirers. “Authenticity” might not necessarily paint users in the best light to recruiters, so it seems more likely that students would post polished clips promoting their achievements… if they use it at all.

LinkedIn seems to be desperate to appeal to the next generation. Social app investigator and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong today spotted 10 minor new features LinkedIn is prototyping that include youth-centric options like GIF comments, location sharing in messages and Facebook Reactions-style buttons beyond “Like” such as “Clap,” “Insightful,” “Hmm,” and “Support.”

When users post to Student Stories, they’ll have their university’s logo overlaid as a sticker they can move around. LinkedIn will generate this plus a set of suggested hashtags like #OnCampus based on a user’s profile, including which school they say they attend, though users can also overlay their own text captions. Typically, users in the test phase were sharing videos of around 30 to 45 seconds. “Students are taking us to their school hackathons, showing us their group projects, sharing their student group activities and teaching us about causes they care about,” Patel explains. You can see an example video here, and watch a sizzle reel about the feature below.

For now, LinkedIn tells me it has no plans to insert ads between clips in Student Voices. But if the Stories content assists with discovering and vetting job candidates, it could make LinkedIn more unique and indispensable to recruiters who do pay for premium access. And if these Stories get a ton of views simply by being emblazoned atop the LinkedIn feed, users might return to the app more frequently to share them. As we’ve seen with the steady increase in popularity of Facebook Stories, if you give people a stage for narcissism, they will fill it.

LinkedIn’s start as a dry web tool for seeking jobs has made for a rocky transition as it tries to become a daily habit for users. Some tactical advice in its feed can be helpful, but much of LinkedIn’s content feels blatantly self-promotional, boring or transactional. Meanwhile, it’s encountering new competition as Facebook integrates career listings and job applications for blue-collar work into its social network that already sees over a billion people visit each day. It’s understandable why LinkedIn would try to latch on to the visual communication trend, as Facebook estimates Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all apps in 2019. But Student Voices nonetheless feels unabashedly “how do you do, fellow kids?”

LinkedIn Learning now includes 3rd party content and Q&A interactive features

LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network for the working world with some 580 million users, took a big step into professional development and education when it acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion and used it as the anchor for LinkedIn Learning.

Now, with 13,000 courses on the platform, LinkedIn is announcing two new developments to get more people using the service. It will now offer videos, tutorials and courses from third parties such as Treehouse and the publishing division of Harvard Business School. And in a social twist, people who use LinkedIn learning — the students and teachers — will now be able to ask and answer questions around LinkedIn Learning sessions, as well as follow instructors on LinkedIn, and see others’ feedback on courses.

Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning comes when a person pays for LinkedIn’s Premium Career tier which costs around $30/month, or when a company takes an enterprise team subscription for the Learning service. Today, LinkedIn tells me that it has around 11,000 enterprise customers, and it doesn’t break out how much traffic is has overall on LinkedIn, but says that there has been a 64 percent growth in paid learners since the start of 2017 — number that it’s clearly looking to boost with these new features.

James Raybould, the director of product for LinkedIn Learning, said that the third-party expansion will come slowly at first with a handful of partners getting access to integrate with LinkedIn Learning. Over time, this could expand to be a public API for anyone to integrate content, he added, but for now LinkedIn is doing the curating. The company has had a patchy history when it comes to sharing data and its platform with third parties, and it shut down full access to its API to everyone but a handful of partners several years ago.

Notably, he also said that LinkedIn itself is not planning on curtailing the amount of content it will continue to produce for Learning: it’s currently adding on average more than 70 new courses each week on average, he said.

The content in this first wave of third-party providers feels like a natural extension of the Influencer-based content that LinkedIn has been running in its main newsfeed: it runs the gamut from actual courses to learn new skills in specific disciplines, to the more nebulous area of professional development.

The first group includes Harvard ManageMentor (leadership development courses from Harvard Business School’s publishing arm); getAbstract (a Blinkist-style service that provides 10,000+ non-fiction book summaries plus TED talks); Big Think: 500 short-form videos on topics of the day (these are not so much ‘courses’ as they are ‘life lessons’ — subjects include organising activism and an explainer on how to end bi-partisan politics); Treehouse with courses on coding and product design skills; and Creative Live with courses and tutorials for professionals in the creative industries to improve their skills and business acumen.

The fact that LinkedIn is adding in more learning material that’s a natural extension of the kind of content it already offers to users in their timelines is not the only parallel between main LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning. Raybould said that to help users discover content that might be most interesting to them, it uses data about what users browse and click on in the regular site.

“We have rich information about the network, including on engagement,” he said, and that helps LinkedIn’s algorithms suggest what to populate in individual learning libraries.

This is also, presumably, one of the reasons why third parties will want to integrate: to get new audiences that are more targeted to the kind of content they are producing:

“At Harvard Business Publishing, we work to create the world best learning experiences to help organizations discover new ways to solve their most pressing leadership development challenges,” said Rich Gravelin, Director, Partnerships and Alliances, at Harvard Business Publishing, in a statement. “As an inaugural partner in the LinkedIn Learning Content Partner Program, we are bringing rich leadership development content to professionals across the globe, helping them navigate today’s complex business landscape. Thanks to the robust platform that LinkedIn Learning has built, we’re able to meet learners where they are and provide them with the unique and personalized learning experiences they need to succeed in their organizations.”

The social features also follow this model. Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a mentorship product across selected markets to pair users with people who can give them steers on their career development. That product set out a precedent for how LinkedIn might use its wider social network and communication features to engage users in different ways, in the name of professional development.

The new addition of Q&A features follows on from that, giving those taking courses or watching videos a way of interacting and following up with those who are doing the teaching. Adding that in could see more engagement across the whole of the Learning product.

It’s a surprise, in a way, that it’s taken this long for LinkedIn to add an interactive Q&A feature in, considering that direct messaging and users interacting with each other has been a cornerstone of the product. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if it proves to be a compelling enough feature to bring in more users to LinkedIn, luring them away from Udemy’s and Skillsofts of the world.

 

Facebook poaches leaders of Refdash interview prep to work on Jobs

Facebook just snatched some talent to fuel its invasion of LinkedIn’s turf. A source tells TechCrunch that members of coding interview practice startup Refdash including at least some of its executives have been hired by Facebook. The social network confirmed to TechCrunch that members of Refdash’s leadership team are joining to work on Facebook’s Jobs feature that lets business promote employment openings that users can instantly apply for.

Facebook’s big opportunity here is that it’s a place people already browse naturally, so they can be exposed to Job listings even when they’re not actively looking for a company or career change. Since launching the feature in early 2017, Facebook has focused on blue-collar jobs like service and retail industry jobs that constantly need filling. But the Refdash team could give it more experience in recruiting for technical roles, connecting high-skilled workers like computer programmers to positions that need filling. These hirers might be willing to pay high prices to advertise their job listings on Facebook, siphoning revenue away from LinkedIn.

Facebook confirms that this is not an acquisition or technically a full acquihire, as there’s no overarching deal to buy assets or talent as a package. It’s so far unclear what exactly will happen to Refdash now that its team members are starting at Facebook this week, though it’s possible it will shut down now that its leaders have left for the tech giant’s cushy campuses and premium perks. Refdash’s website now says that “We’ve temporarily suspended interviews in order to make product changes that we believe will make your job search experience significantly better.”

Founded in 2016 in Mountain View with an undisclosed amount of funding from Founder Friendly Labs, Refdash gave programmers direct qualitative and scored feedback on their coding interviews. Users would do a mock interview, get graded, and then have their performance anonymously shared with potential employers to match them with the right companies and positions for their skills. This saved engineers from having to endure grueling interrogations with tons of different hirers. Refdash claimed to place users at startups like Coinbase, Cruise, Lyft, and Mixpanel.

A source tells us that Refdash focused on understanding people’s deep professional expertise and sending them to the perfect employer without having to judge by superficial resumes that can introduce bias to the process. It also touted allowing hirers to browse candidates without knowing their biographical details, which could also cut down on discrimination and helps ensure privacy in the job hunting process (especially if people are still working elsewhere and are trying to be discreet in their job hunt).

It’s easy to imagine Facebook building its own coding challenge and puzzles that programmers could take to then get paired with appropriate hirers through its Jobs product. Perhaps Facebook could even build a similar service to Refdash, though the one-on-one feedback sessions it’d conduct might not be scalable enough for Menlo Park’s liking. If Facebook can make it easier to not only apply for jobs but interview for them too, it could lure talent and advertisers away from LinkedIn to a product that’s already part of people’s daily lives.

The co-founders of Refdash have something of a track record in building companies that get acquihired to help add new features to existing services. Nicola Otasevic and Andrew Carnot were respectively the founder and tech lead for Room 77, which was picked up by Google in 2014 to help rebuild its travel search vertical. At the time it was described as a licensing deal although Refdash’s founders these days call it an acquisition.

Building tools to improve the basic process of hiring via remote testing could help Facebook get an edge on technical recruiting, but it’s not the only one building such features. LinkedIn’s stablemate Skype (like LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft) last year unveiled Interviews to let recruiters test developers and others applying for technical jobs with a real-time code editor. LinkedIn has not incorporated it into its platform.