When people are the product, they become the pawns: Why LinkedIn users should be outraged about the recent hack


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I’m a premium-paying member of LinkedIn. So when 6.5 million LinkedIn passwords were compromised by Russian hackers last week, I was a little miffed that I heard about it from a friend who got a note from a friend that works in (and heard it from) a local sheriff’s office.

To alert members of the hacking issue, LinkedIn posted a notification on each user’s home page, leading them to the blog post containing the following excerpt:

“It is of the utmost importance that we keep you, our members, informed regarding the news this week that some LinkedIn member passwords were compromised. We want to reiterate that we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our members.”

In case you haven’t yet seen the whole post, you can read it here. They also suggested a series of security changes to make yourself.

Why didn’t LinkedIn send me an email, or an InMail? Their action relied on me to visit the site, and that strikes me as, well, as if they were hoping the fewest number of people would find out. If they truly acted immediately, how could they align “those who will visit the site in the next day or so” with the 6.5 million passwords that were hacked? This chapter of my LinkedIn experience leaves me wondering about whether LinkedIn views me as a customer, or my content as their product.

While access to my LinkedIn account wouldn’t give hackers a huge amount of useable information, the issue lies in the fact that many people use the same passwords for multiple accounts, including financial services.

It seems that in these new, content-based business models, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that every business has both a responsibility and an opportunity to perform in the best interests of the participants.

This is, sadly, starting to feel familiar.

Only minutes before hearing of the LinkedIn incident, I’d been reading about another situation. Similar theme; same sinking feeling.

As a part of its ongoing court battle with Oracle, Hewlett-Packard entered a document containing customer complaints concerning the topic of the lawsuit, into the Santa Clara Superior Court record. The fact that court records are open to the public and available online was overlooked. The document not only included complaints, but also names, job titles, email addresses and phone numbers of approximately 150 HP customers. All this information was posted on the internet, causing some serious confidentiality concerns for the customers. The data could have been redacted, but customers did not seem to be top of mind for HP in this situation.

In perhaps another timing coincidence, just this morning I read Rory O’Connor’s “Google is Evil” post (and emotional debate in comments) on Wired.com. Rory states:

“Now the company’s repeatedly defensive and dishonest responses to charges that its specially equipped Street View cars surreptitiously collected private internet communications — including emails, photographs, passwords, chat messages, and postings on websites and social networks — could signal a tipping point.”

What’s going on?

For new media or content-driven organizations like LinkedIn and Google, members’ participation is the service. I think that for leaders in these organizations, it has become too easy to see members as a product that can be sold to advertisers, as opposed to valued customers.

Top performing businesses align their operating decisions (whether it’s managing a hack or changing technology) with the values and needs of all segments of paying customers. Top performing leaders understand what they solve for customers like advertisers vs. members like me, and they design the business on mutually shared values.

Dan Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, summed up the issue at a conference last fall:

“Most people would say ‘we’re the users, and the product is advertising,'” he said. “But in fact, the advertisers are the users and you are the product.”

I want the benefits organizations LinkedIn, HP, and Google have to offer. Overall, I’m a fan of each one. But let’s hope the leaders at these organizations regain sight of members as “customers” and not content managed as a product. I want to stop feeling like a pawn on a chessboard and feel more like the king worth protecting in order to win.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Linda Ireland
Linda Ireland is co-owner and partner of Aveus LLC, a global strategy and operational change firm that helps leaders find money in the business performance chain while improving customer experiences. As author of Domino: How to Use Customer Experience to Tip Everything in Your Business toward Better Financial Performance, Linda built on work done at Aveus and aims to deliver real-life, actionable, how-to help for leaders of any organization.


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