One of the biggest difficulties in protecting our privacy is that we have no control over how leaky our friends and acquaintances are. This has always been true and sales and marketing people have relied on this in one way or another throughout all civilisation. These days, it’s getting ever harder to not leak personal information about other people.
Here’s an example:
A friend recently set up a LinkedIn account and invited me to join her network. That’s fine. I don’t have a LinkedIn account and I’m not interested in ever having one, but I’m not at all offended by the request. Those networks are useful for some people and it’s nice that she thought to invite me. However, the invitation email comes from LinkedIn, rather than from my friend. Since I don’t have an account, she must have typed in my email address into the invite form. So LinkedIn have my email address. Not only that, but they say in the email footer that they can and will use my address for reasons so vaguely worded that it means, in practice, anything.
They do provide a link to ‘unsubscribe’ (as if I’d actively subscribed in the first place) but it’s depressing that they feel entitled to use it for their own purposes without my permission simply because someone else invited me to join their service.
I don’t blame my friend. I very much doubt that LinkedIn made it clear what they would and wouldn’t do with the details of the people she invited. And even if they did, she could certainly be forgiven for not understanding why I object to it. For a variety of reasons, the fallout from our carelessness about other people’s details is rarely clear. It would be virtually impossible for me to connect some spam or other consequence with LinkedIn’s abuse of my email address. My friend wouldn’t have a chance of doing so.
Companies like LinkedIn could do a lot more to remind us of the business they’re actually in.