US Supreme Court gives LinkedIn green light to fight data scraping

A lower court ruling previously barred the company from preventing hiQ Labs from accessing information that its members had made public

The US Supreme Court has given LinkedIn permission to try and stop a rival website from harvesting personal data from its platform. 

The move essentially throws out a lower court ruling that previously barred the company from preventing hiQ Labs from accessing information that LinkedIn members had made public on the business platform. 

In 2019, the Circuit Court of Appeals let stand a 2017 preliminary injunction that required LinkedIn to give hiQ Labs access to user accounts that were publicly available, with Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon stating that hiQ showed it faced irreparable harm and might go out of business without access.

The issue centres around whether companies can use a US federal anti-hacking law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits accessing a computer without authorisation, to block competitors from scraping vast amounts of customer data from public-facing parts of a website.

It underscores the increasing importance and value of personal data on the internet and raises complex questions about who can control it, who can use it, and for what purpose. In the case of hiQ, it uses LinkedIn data to analyse employee skill sets and alert employers when they might be available for work. During the initial court case in 2017, hiQ accused LinkedIn of anti-competitive conduct by suggesting it issued its threats around the same time as it launched a similar service. 

As part of its defence, LinkedIn told the Supreme Court that hiQ uses software 'bots' that can harvest data on a massive scale, far beyond the capabilities of a single person viewing public profiles, which undermines its own service. In April, the business platform also suggested that some of the publicly viewable data of its users had been scraped and posted for sale. 

IT Pro has approached both LinkedIn and hiQ for comment. 

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