182_182_rapportive-logoIt’s no secret that most recruiters have a love-hate relationship with LinkedIn. But whether they’re frustrated with price point, data privacy or overall efficacy, they now can add another reason to shake their fists at the company.  For over two years after their acquisition of Rapportive – a GMail plug in that aggregates contact information and social profiles in a slick sidebar seamlessly integrated with GMail users’ inboxes – the Mountain View based “professional network” made minimal changes to the product’s features or functionality.

But yesterday, everything changed – and LinkedIn sent a clear signal in their announcement that this incredibly effective tool was about to get a lot less useful.

According to LinkedIn, as of July 31, 2014, they will be removing both the “notes” and “Raplets” features from the product. Additionally, and most importantly, information populated from other social networks like Facebook and Twitter will be removed unless that contact also includes that information on their LinkedIn profile itself.

If you remember LinkedIn’s short lived “Intro” app (if you blinked, you probably missed it), you may be questioning LinkedIn’s next move, considering this first foray into leveraging their Rapportive acquisition into their core product offerings was, by any standards, a dismal failure.

But while it may seem, from a big data and CRM perspective, that Rapportive is set to take a giant leap backwards, the truth of the matter is that it’s a smart business move for the company, and one that makes perfect sense given their product roadmap and platform positioning.  A closer look reveals two major reasons most likely behind these big changes – and if these are indeed what’s driving LinkedIn’s Rapportive roadmap, users can expect a far more sweeping set of changes to the core LinkedIn platform in the not-so-distant future.

1. Maximize Profits

LinkedIn has a long track record of removing or blocking free functionality that they can monetize or somehow price at a premium.  LinkedIn limits its native CRM features and functionality strictly to premium users – and if GMail users, particularly those who use Google’s growing product suite, can access these premium features for free, the company is obviously eroding its margins and siphoning off a potentially lucrative revenue stream.

Further, if a member obtains this information without having to actually visit LinkedIn itself, then they are also less likely to visit LinkedIn.com, driving down the site visits and time on site statistics the company relies on as a primary part of its P/L.

2. Minimize Legal Exposure

The second – and far more important reason – likely catalyzing LinkedIn’s most recent move is due not to maximizing profits, but limiting legal liability.  LinkedIn currently has at least three lawsuits currently working their way through various stages of the legal system – and their outcomes, individually and collectively, will set highly influential precedents for recruiting and technology as we know it.

  • LinkedIn v. Robocog, Inc (doing business as HiringSolved) and Shon Burton, a named defendant who’s also HiringSolved’s CEO, was a legal action initiated against the data aggregation startup in January of this year.  For more context and information, check out my earlier post, The LinkedIn Lawsuit: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth and LinkedIn V. HiringSolved: 3 Reasons You Should Care (Even If You’re Not In Recruiting) by Matt Charney.
  • Perkins, et al. v. LinkedIn Corporation is a nationwide, class action lawsuit challenging LinkedIn’s practice of accessing users’ third party email accounts without the prior consent of their users, scraping, harvesting and storing e-mail addresses that appear in those accounts, and sending multiple reminder e-mails – ostentibly on behalf of the user – advertising LinkedIn to non-members and encouraging them to sign up and set up profiles on the site.  For more information on this class action suit, click here.
  • In re LinkedIn User Privacy Litigation was LinkedIn’s motion to dismiss a putative class action lawsuit concerning LinkedIn’s allegedly misleading privacy policy statement, one that was denied under California’s Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus & Prof. Code §17200 et seq., which confirms the putative plantiffs’ allegations that the company had adequately alleged causation and injury as defined by case law precedent.

In light of these pending legal actions, LinkedIn’s decision to limit Rapportive’s functionality is an important – and prescient – move by the company, which effectively removes any user information not provided directly to the company by its end users from LinkedIn’s product portfolio and onsite experience, and requiring appropriate permissions to continue to access and aggregate associated information.

If a Facebook profile, for example, is listed on the Rapportive sidebar, but not the member’s LinkedIn profile or via direct opt in prior to the date when LinkedIn acquired the product, it begs the question: “how, exactly, did LinkedIn get this information in the first place?”

After its acquisition, Rapportive users found themselves suddenly covered by LinkedIn’s Terms of Service and privacy policy (most without realizing it) – a scary prospect in and of itself.  Don’t forget, LinkedIn owns the data from its acquisitions (including the recently scuttled CardMunch, Pulse and other platforms with associated databases of legacy users’ personal information) – and can remove that data, misappropriate it, or do whatever it so desires with the data provided by users who never agreed to provide it to the company.

With the market for “people aggregation” point solutions & products exploding and the number of GMail extensions and integrations growing, if you’re relying on Rapportive as a “go to” tool in your recruiting toolbox, it may be time to start looking at other options.  I know I will.

DISCLAIMER:  This article and any links provided are for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional or legal advice. Receipt of these materials does not create an attorney-client relationship nor is it a solicitation or advertisement to provide legal services.  The views expressed in this article may be outdated or repealed by current law. Do not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel in the appropriate jurisdiction.

NicoleGreenbergSTreckerAbout the Author: Nicole Greenberg Strecker, Esq. serves as Managing Director at STA Worldwide, a global professional services firm specializing in IT staffing, project management and consulting services. A licensed Illinois attorney and member of the American Bar Association, Nicole has over a decade of experience in talent acquisition and recruiting strategy.

Recognized as “the world’s only lawyer with a focus on sourcing,” Nicole is a highly sought after public speaker, presenting on compliance, sourcing and technology topics to industry audiences around the world, and her writing on these subjects has been recently featured by top publications like SourceCon, Recruiting Daily and HRExaminer.

A lifelong native of Chicago, Nicole is a graduate of Lake Forest College and received her Juris Doctor from the John Marshall Law School. Follow Nicole on Twitter @NGSEsq or connect with her on LinkedIn.