Criticism of LinkedIn Learning’s Policies Grows

LinkedIn Learning, which acquired Lynda.com in 2015, recently announced that all users of the platform’s online training programs will be required to create or log into a LinkedIn account to access the content. The new terms of service would also apply to LyndaLibrary users who access the platform through library subscriptions.

Lynda.com logo, which is a drawing of woman reading bookLinkedIn Learning, which acquired Lynda.com in 2015, recently announced that all users of the platform’s online training programs will be required to create or log into a LinkedIn account to access the content. The new terms of service would also apply to LyndaLibrary users who access the platform through library subscriptions. Previously, subscribing libraries could offer patrons access to LyndaLibrary’s training videos on topics ranging from video production to project management using only a library card.

Requiring library users to create a LinkedIn account would provide the Microsoft subsidiary with a patron’s email address, first and last name, and any personal work and education information or professional contacts that the user chooses to input into the career networking platform. In addition, unless subscribing libraries create alternate credentialing systems, logging in would still require a patron’s library card number, linking it to a significant amount of personal information in a database controlled by a third party.

Samantha Lee, Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair of the Connecticut Library Association and Head of Reference Services for the Enfield Public Library, first reported on the potential privacy implications in a detailed June 4 guest post on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Intellectual Freedom Blog.

Lee wrote that: “the…patrons who are turning to LyndaLibrary to improve their technology skills…may not know to protect their [personally identifiable information] or practice good digital hygiene. LinkedIn is strategically taking advantage of technology novices all the while fleecing money from limited library budgets.”

She added that the issue had been discussed on Connecticut library listservs and said that some librarians in the state had begun contacting their account representatives. “When pushed on the patron privacy concerns, [LinkedIn Learning representatives] failed to adequately address the privacy concerns,” Lee wrote. “As a result, a few libraries have reported that they would not be renewing their contracts with LyndaLibrary/LinkedIn Learning.”

In a June 28 response to the nascent controversy titled "Our Commitment to Libraries," Mike Derezin, VP of Learning Solutions for LinkedIn, wrote that "the migration from Lynda.com to LinkedIn Learning will give our library customers and their patrons access to 2x the learning content, in more languages, and with a more engaging experience." Derezin claimed that the use of LinkedIn profiles will help the company with user authentication, and that any LinkedIn user has the ability to set their profiles to private, and to choose not to have their profiles be discoverable via search engines.

Yet profile discoverability isn’t the only privacy issue raising concerns. LinkedIn Learning’s terms of service includes expansive permissions for retention and utilization of user data, including vaguely defined permissions to share user data with additional third parties when the company believes it is reasonably necessary. While such terms have become typical for many online platforms and services, this would violate Article VII of the Library Bill of Rights, which declares that users have a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Library vendors are held to stricter standards for data retention and use because, as Lee notes, Connecticut and other states also have legal standards for library confidentiality.

“As an outside vendor providing services to library users, any activity on LinkedIn Learning as a library patron would constitute a library transaction and therefore should ‘be kept confidential’” per Connecticut’s General Statutes on public libraries, she explained. “This becomes problematic when we look at LinkedIn’s Privacy Policy (again, indistinguishable from LyndaLibrary/LinkedIn Learning’s platform) and its indiscriminate collection of user information.”

This week, California State Librarian Greg Lucas recommended that the state’s libraries stop offering the service “until the company changes its new use policy so that it protects the privacy of library users. Not only does LinkedIn Learning refuse to acknowledge the fundamental right to privacy that is central to the guarantee libraries make to their customers…it seeks to use personal information provided by library patrons in various ways, including sharing it with third parties.”

Separately, ALA issued an announcement urging the company to revise the new terms, with ALA President Wanda Kay Brown stating that “the requirement for users of LinkedIn Learning to disclose personally identifiable information is completely contrary to ALA policies addressing library users’ privacy, and it may violate some states’ library confidentiality laws. It also violates the librarian’s ethical obligation to keep a person’s use of library resources confidential. We are deeply concerned about these changes to the terms of service and urge LinkedIn and its owner, Microsoft, to reconsider their position on this.”

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