Stalking victim's petition to LinkedIn for blocking feature is finally heard

Filed Under: Featured, Privacy, Social networks

LinkedIn. Image courtesy of ShutterstockAnna R., a US woman from Columbus, Ohio, says that she was once sexually assaulted in the workplace.

She left her job, she says, hoping to leave the trauma behind.

But then, the stalking started.

It came via email, voicemail - "some threatening, some flirty, day after day", she said.

She could ignore the email and delete the voicemail; she could block Facebook; and she could tweak user privacy settings in Twitter.

But there was one social media site - LinkedIn - where she couldn't block the abuse.

Every day, she was being checked out on the professional networking site. The last straw came when her abuser started researching her connections to see where they were located, as he attempted to track her down.

She writes:

If [my connections] were in a different area in which I worked for him, he would e-mail me to see if I moved and what I was doing. Little things like that started getting me really scared.

According to Anna R.'s account, LinkedIn customer service said that she would only be able to block a member if that member was prohibited from having a LinkedIn account by virtue of a court order - a requirement she (rightfully) found "ludicrous and to the extreme", given how many of LinkedIn's social media brethren had a blocking or report abuse feature.

LinkedIn was, as she charged, an outlier. But now, 10 months after Anna R. started a petition to get LinkedIn to create a blocking feature, LinkedIn has done just that.

The company announced the new member blocking feature last week.

The new feature is both a response to users' requests and because it's "the right thing to do," LinkedIn said.

So any LinkedIn user who's being stalked - or simply harassed by a zealous recruiter, for that matter - can now block the person who's discomforting them.

LinkedIn report block 170Here's how:

  1. Go to the profile of the person you'd like to block.
  2. After you finish blocking someone, you will disappear from the Who's Viewed Your Profile section of the person you blocked.
  3. Move your cursor over the down arrow next to the button in the top section of the member's profile. Button name may vary.
  4. Select Block or Report next to the member's name.
  5. Click Continue.
  6. On the next screen, click Agree to confirm your action.

This is what will happen:

  • You won't be able to access each other's profiles on LinkedIn.
  • You won't be able to message each other on LinkedIn.
  • If you're connected, you won't be connected anymore.
  • LinkedIn will remove any endorsements and recommendations from that member.
  • You won't see each other in your "Who's Viewed Your Profile".
  • LinkedIn will stop suggesting you to each other in features such as "People You May Know" and "People also Viewed".

As many LinkedIn users have noted, blocking a specific person doesn't mean that he or she can't simply browse a profile anonymously. In fact, setting a profile to view anonymously is what LinkedIn recommends users do before blocking another user.

LinkedIn Head of Trust & Safety Paul Rockwell offered a number of additional settings to tweak in order to protect a profile:

  • Disconnecting. This provides users with the ability to remove any existing connection to another member in their network.
  • Customize Your Public Profile. Provides control over what profile content is discoverable by search engines.
  • Activity Broadcasts. Controls whether others can see profile updates, recommendations made and companies followed.
  • Photo Visibility. Controls who can see your profile photo.

Some commenters on LinkedIn's announcement point out that urging users to browse anonymously before blocking others seems to be aiding and abetting exactly the kind of stalker that a block feature is meant to deal with.

That bit confuses me, too. I can see how anonymous browsing shields stalking victims from their predators, but doesn't it also shield stalkers' actions from their victims? That side of the coin certainly doesn't seem to present a step in the right direction.

In fact, following user outcry, Twitter itself in December had to back off of a watered-down block feature that would have allowed blocked users to continue to follow their targets, oblivious to the fact that they'd been blocked as they continued to interact with blockers' Tweets, receive their timeline updates, and thereby, critics said, enable blocked users' friends to continue harassment of victims.

What do you think? Is LinkedIn's encouragement to browse anonymously a watered-down approach to blocking?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image of LinkedIn courtesy of Shutterstock.

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4 Responses to Stalking victim's petition to LinkedIn for blocking feature is finally heard

  1. LonerVamp · 177 days ago

    Oh nice, I didn't even know LinkedIn had an anonymous browsing feature now. (That is, allowing me to browse former coworkers without letting them know I'm looking them up; which is annoying.)

    The deeper one looks into being private on a social network, the more holes you find; the action really digs at the whole reason for these social networks, and in some cases, their very business model. Join one of them and expect privacy? Unfortunately, good luck. Fake accounts, anonymous un-logged in browsing, opt-in users, and still the need to make money from recruiters and various others who consume this data, and it becomes very difficult to stop stalking or control your privacy.

    To your end question, I think the problem is that LinkedIn requires you go to the offender's profile to block them, which, if you're not browsing anonymously, will make you show up on their Last Viewed list. That step is to prevent that. I'm not exactly sure how one would be able to block another user without some interaction starting it, either them browsing you or you browsing them (to make sure you have the right person's name).

    Still, fake accounts exist.

    On a side note, reading the responses to the LinkedIn announcement illustrates the frustration we have with privacy and security. Pretty much every single response demonstrates a different expected level of both. Some people don't get at all why you're want to be anonymous. It just makes me sigh and go back to work. :( I just ask for transparency in the businesses I deal with and settings to adjust my privacy as desired so I can still use the service if desired.

  2. jonathanpdx · 177 days ago

    [...because it's "the right thing to do," LinkedIn said]

    LMAO! What a crock. Because their attorneys finally advised them it was the best thing to do to cover their backsides would be more accurate.

    Social Media is like every other business. They'll only do what little they need to in order to not adversely affect their bottom line. They're not interested in privacy or security, but in making as much money as they can, regardless of who gets run over.

    If they were truly interested in the safety, security and privacy of their members, accounts would be ompletely locked down at the get go and users would need to OPT IN in order to do anything.

    But for now it's up to users to OPT OUT of pretty much everything.

  3. Blake · 176 days ago

    You would think they would not need their arm twisted to do the right thing.

  4. NoName · 175 days ago

    LinkedIn is not like other social networks- it’s designed to be public. Treat it like a giant poster in your staff room.... only share what you want EVERYONE to know!!!!

    It’s a great shame it doesn’t offer more privacy for users who just want to share with connections. I personally have stopped sharing most of my details on LinkedIn and would recommend someone in the articles situation to close their account. It is a shame but Linkedin is S**T when it comes to privacy or common sense for that matter.

    There are so many ways around the little privacy options and the suggestion by LinkedIn is not enough to stop someone from being harassed.

    PS: You can anonymously browse peoples profiles however your connections and other profiles you have viewed start to show up on their People also viewed and similar sections.

    - Rant Over!!

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.