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Federal court would not like to add LinkedIn to its professional network

A general view of atmosphere at the LinkedIn B2B Forum panel during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII at Nasdaq MarketSite on September 29, 2015, in New York City.
A general view of atmosphere at the LinkedIn B2B Forum panel during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII at Nasdaq MarketSite on September 29, 2015, in New York City.
Andrew Toth/Getty Images

It's a near universal experience of being a human being who uses the internet: receiving spam emails with the dreaded subject line, "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."

The emails are ubiquitous — so much so that they've become a punchline in New Yorker cartoons. And they are impossible to escape by quitting LinkedIn; I have tried and failed.

Now a federal court has found those emails aren't just spam. They're actually an illegal abuse of tens of millions' Americans inboxes.

In the class action lawsuit Perkins v. LinkedIn, LinkedIn users charge that the website sent out numerous emails to their contacts without asking permission. The networking site, according to the lawsuit, "never discloses to its users that it will send multiple emails to each email address that it has harvested."

"LinkedIn, without consent, downloads and indefinitely stores email addresses gathered from its members' third-party email accounts," the lawsuit continues. "Not only does LinkedIn send an initial email to the email addresses obtained from a user's external email account, but LinkedIn sends two additional emails to those addresses when those users do not sign up for a LinkedIn account."

The lawsuit reached a settlement in late September, with LinkedIn agreeing to pay a total of $13 million to approximately 20.8 million people who used the site's "add connections" function to import external email addresses between September 17, 2011, and October 31, 2014. That means the only people eligible to get money are the people who sent the spam emails — who argue in their lawsuit that the spam messages damaged their reputations — and, sadly, not those who only received the messages.

LinkedIn has agreed to send an email to users who may fit that group and will pay out up to $1,500 per person — although the number could be smaller if many people petition the website for funds. There will soon be a notice on the website, too, letting LinkedIn users finally seek vengeance for their spam-ravaged inboxes.