As with most things in life, the devil is in the details.
Case in point: while LinkedIn continues to be (in my opinion) one of the most legitimate and ethical Internet companies out there, one should definitely be mindful of privacy issues and such when using ANY social media site — including LinkedIn — and should think carefully about how to configure their settings on such systems to avoid surprises.
Beyond this sweeping generality, however, I’m also writing this post based on LinkedIn’s relatively new status as a public enterprise (they went through an IPO last year) and the likelihood that this new ownership structure will tempt them to play a little more fast and loose with their members’ data — in an attempt to please shareholders and boost profits. For example, in articles such as the one you’ll find here, from PCworld.com, it was revealed last August that LinkedIn had started to use some of the photos and names of their users in advertisements, without their consent. Or at least without their explicit consent. What they did, as you’ll read about, is basically add an obscure feature to the LinkedIn Settings page that would allow people to OPT OUT of being included in such ads, but would allow permission, by default.
This was a baaaaad move on their part. And they paid for it, PR-wise.
At any rate, for these reasons above, plus the fact that some people may simply want to tweak their account parameters to enjoy more “stealth” on the system, regardless, I thought I’d write up a quick post outlining the key privacy settings that you can adjust on the system. As a first step, though, you’ll find to actually FIND the Settings menu. Hint: If you log in to LinkedIn and put your cursor over your name, in the top right of the screen, you’ll see a drop-down box appear with the Settings menu listed. Click on it and you should get this screen:
Once you find your way to this menu, you can browse around and consider tweaking dozens of different options that are available, most of which are fairy self-explanatory. In terms of guarding one’s privacy, however, there are seven specific settings I usually recommend that people change from the default, under normal circumstances. To find these specific setting pages, you’ll need to poke around a little bit in the main four “submenus” at the lower-left part of the screen — e.g. Profile; E-Mail Preferences; Groups, Companies, &Applications; and Account.
Here’s the rundown:
1. “Turn On/Off Your Activity Broadcasts” Setting: I recommend you turn this “off” to avoid automatically notifying all of your LinkedIn contacts each time you do little things on the system such as updating your profile, making a new connection, following a company, and the like. Or at least keep this setting turned off until you’ve got your profile finalized, so that people don’t get bugged each time you second-guess yourself and change a few words on your Summary and such…
2. “Who Can See Your Activity Feed” Setting: Not a big deal, but again, unless you want people tracking your every move on LinkedIn, I’d recommend you change this setting to “Only You” to keep more control over the information people can see about you.
3. “Select What Others See When You’ve Viewed Your Profile” Setting: I may never convince people of this, but I think it’s utterly worthless to worry about “who’s checked you out” on LinkedIn if they’ve reviewed your profile but not actually made contact. If they want to talk to you, they’ll reach out. If not, it’s not worth worrying about, or creepier, still, if you follow up with them to ask their motives. Plus, for you to see the names of the people who have checked you out, you have to allow others to see YOUR name, when you check THEM out. It’s a two-way street. Long story short, I keep this option set to “You will be totally anonymous” so that I can browse other peoples’ profiles in confidence, knowing my identity won’t be revealed.
4. “Select Who Can See Your Connections” Setting: If you’re open to letting people know exactly who else you know on LinkedIn, you can keep this setting tuned to the default “Your Connections” option. Since I really don’t dig the idea of people casually browsing through my connections, though, hunting for targets of opportunity, I instead run with the “Only You” option — thereby requiring people to actually KNOW (and search for) the type of contact they’re looking for (e.g. somebody at Amazon.com) versus just flipping through my contacts, at random.
5. “LinkedIn Communications” Settings: I’d turn off all three of these settings on the “E-Mail Preferences” menu because, call me crazy, I usually don’t like to receive unsolicited advertisements from LinkedIn — or any other company, for that matter!
6. “Turn On/Off Data Sharing with 3rd Party Applications” Setting: This one might be okay to leave active if you’re a “mobile device” user and need LinkedIn to be able to communicate and share data with a bunch of other third-party applications out there. Otherwise, if you don’t use LinkedIn-related “apps” on your iPhone/Droid, it’s probably safest to disable this setting.
7. “Manage Social Advertising” &“Manage Partner Advertising” Settings: Ah, now these are the main culprits to watch out for, since they’re the ones that got LinkedIn in trouble a while back! By default, LinkedIn assumes you’d like nothing better than to have your name/photo used in advertisements without your express knowledge or consent. And, on a milder note, the second option assumes that you would like to receive customized advertisements based on your demographic profile. In my case, the answer to both question is “Ummm, no. But thanks!”
Again, let me emphasize these are simply my own (subjective) recommendations and best practices for the average user. There are definitely cases where some of you will want to leave certain settings activated — especially if you practice a much more “open” philosophy than I do about connecting with people, how much information you’re willing to share with strangers, and the like. If that’s your style, though, I suspect you already have a pretty good handle on social media sites and how to optimize these kinds of settings to fit your needs.
So use the above seven recommendations as a rough guideline, but feel free to veto some of them if they don’t apply to your current career situation or networking philosophy! Best of luck…