What’s the cost of bad UX? It’s just cost LinkedIn $13 million.

LinkedIn is a necessary evil, a bit like standing in post office queues or changing the water in the fishtank. The price you pay for the convenience of connections to former colleagues is having to tolerate an infuriating parade of deceptive UX (“Please add another email to make sure you can always sign in”), gamified narcissism (“get 2% more profile views!” by sending a connection request to someone who died in 2013), and cringeworthy Americanisms (“Say congrats on the new job!”).

It turns out that the public’s patience for this dross is well and truly over. A class action settlement in California has resulted in LinkedIn setting aside $13 million to compensate users who were manipulated by the site’s deceptive UX into handing over their address books, which LinkedIn then used to spam their contacts with connection requests.

The Action challenges LinkedIn’s use of a service called Add Connections to grow its member base. Add Connections allows LinkedIn members to import contacts from their external email accounts and email connection invitations to one or more of those contacts inviting them to connect on LinkedIn. If a connection invitation is not accepted within a certain period of time, up to two “reminder emails” are sent reminding the recipient that the connection invitation is pending. The Court found that members consented to importing their contacts and sending the connection invitation, but did not find that members consented to LinkedIn sending the two reminder emails. The Plaintiffs contend that LinkedIn members did not consent to the use of their names and likenesses in those reminder emails.

How do you design the web site for a class action suit about bad UX? Like this. Clever.
How do you design the web site for a class action suit about bad UX? Like this. Clever.

As the original lawsuit noted, LinkedIn’s user interface straddles the line between poor design and outright deception so blatantly that many users thought their email had been hacked. They had no idea their address books had been uploaded, much less accessed. The complaint also noted that a LinkedIn software engineer’s own profile on the site listed his role as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!” Being caught out on LinkedIn is nothing new, but you have to love how meta it was for LinkedIn to get caught out on LinkedIn.

While denying “any and all wrongdoing or liability”, LinkedIn has also arrogantly refused to cease the practice by default. Instead, it is merely amending the small print.

LinkedIn has revised disclosures, clarifying that up to two reminders are sent for each connection invitation so members can make fully-informed decisions before sending a connection invitation. In addition, by the end of 2015, LinkedIn will implement new functionality allowing members to stop reminders from being sent by canceling the connection invitation.

In a further statement of defiance LinkedIn informed potential claimants about the settlement through an email sent externallynot through LinkedIn itself.

If you used LinkedIn’s “Add Connections” function between 17 September 2011 and 31 October 2014, you can submit a claim. As tends to happen with these class actions, your “claim” will probably be pocket change. But at least it’s change coming out of LinkedIn’s pockets. Hopefully this verdict, and the financial settlement, will send a clear message to web sites who live and die by deceptive UX.

Incidentally, under the new Consumer Rights Bill, people in the UK will now be able to join together to mount US-style class action suits against retailers and businesses. I’ll be curious to see where the great British public decides to point its wrath first.

About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.