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LinkedIn must face customer lawsuit over email addresses

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal judge said LinkedIn Corp must face a lawsuit by customers who claimed it violated their privacy by accessing their external email accounts, downloading their contacts' email addresses and soliciting business from those contacts.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, found that while customers consented to LinkedIn's sending an initial "endorsement email" to recruit contacts, they did not agree to let the professional networking website operator send two reminder emails when the initial email is ignored.

This practice "could injure users' reputations by allowing contacts to think that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join their LinkedIn network," Koh wrote in a 39-page decision released on Thursday.

"In fact," she added, "by stating a mere three screens before the disclosure regarding the first invitation that 'We will not ... email anyone without your permission,' LinkedIn may have actively led users astray."

Koh said customers may pursue claims that LinkedIn violated their right of publicity, which protects them from unauthorized use of their names and likenesses for commercial purposes, and violated a California unfair competition law.

She dismissed other claims, including a claim that LinkedIn violated a federal wiretap law, and said customers may file an amended lawsuit.

Crystal Braswell, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, said the company is pleased that some claims were dismissed, and "will continue to contest the remaining claims, as we believe they have no merit."

LinkedIn is based in Mountain View, California, and had about 300 million users at the end of March.

Larry Russ, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit seeks class action status, a halt to the alleged improper email harvesting and marketing, and money damages.

It is among a series of cases challenging the extent to which Internet companies can mine user data to boost profits.

Last September, in a separate decision critical of some of Google Inc's practices, Koh let Internet users, some with Gmail accounts and some without, pursue a lawsuit challenging the search engine company's practice of scanning emails to provide targeted advertisements.

The recent case is Perkins et al v. LinkedIn Corp, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 13-04303.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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