LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD), the largest global professional network, must face a lawsuit claiming that it violated the privacy rights of customers by accessing their external e-mail accounts and downloading their contact addresses for marketing purposes, according to a federal judge.

LinkedIn Corporation

United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, Lucy H. Koh indicated in her decision that customers will be able to continue to pursue a case against LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) and claim damages for the revenue it generated from using thousands of e-mail accounts.

According to Judge Koh, although customers allowed LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) to send an initial endorsement e-mail to recruit contacts, they did not authorize the company to send additional reminder e-mails when the first e-mail was ignored.

LinkedIn practice could harm user’s reputation

In her ruling, Judge Koh emphasized that the practice of LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) of sending repeated emails could harm the reputation of a user as people on their address books might he or she is the kind of person who spams contacts. The contact might also think that the user does not get the hint that he or she doesn’t want to join the LinkedIn network.

“In fact, 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,” according to Judge Koh.

According to the judge, customers could pursue a lawsuit against LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) that it violated their right of publicity, which provides them protection from unauthorized use of their names and likeness for commercial purposes. Judge Koh also said that customers can claim that the company violated the California unfair competition law, but she dismissed allegations that LinkedIn violated the federal wiretap law. Judge Koh said customers may file an amended lawsuit.

“This type of injury, using an individual’s name for personalized marketing purposes, is precisely the type of harm that California’s common law right of publicity is geared toward preventing. Nothing in LinkedIn’s disclosures alerts users to the possibility that their contacts will receive not just one invitation, but three,” said Judge Koh.

LinkedIn requires users to external e-mail

According to the complaint, LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) required users to use an external e-mail address as a username on its website and used that information to access their external e-mail accounts. The complainants alleged that the company is sending multiple e-mails that promotes brands, products and services to potential users as part of its growth initiatives

Court filings showed that the complainants requested the court to prohibit LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) from repeating its violations and compel it to return any revenue generated from using their e-mail accounts to promote the site to non-members.