U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, Northern District of California.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, Northern District of California. (Jason Doiy)

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has refused to let LinkedIn off the hook for pestering its members’ acquaintances to join the professional networking site.

Ruling in a privacy class action filed last year against LinkedIn Corp., U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California found that the social networking site might have damaged its users’ reputations by sending repeated emails to addresses harvested from their contact lists.

Koh dismissed some claims, reasoning that plaintiffs gave consent for the company to invite contacts to join their professional networks. However, she faulted the company for persisting with its email campaign even after recipients declined to join the site. Because the messages appear to come from users, they could be “professionally or personally harmful,” Koh wrote.

“The second and third endorsement emails could injure users’ reputations by making the users’ contacts believe that the users are the types of people who spam their contacts or are unable to take the hint that their contacts do not want to join their LinkedIn network,” she wrote in a 39-page order issued Thursday.

The decision allowed plaintiffs in Perkins v. LinkedIn, 13-4303, to move forward with common-law right-of-publicity claims, as well as a claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law. Plaintiffs are represented by Larry Russ and Dorian Berger of Russ August & Kabat in Los Angeles. Munger, Tolles & Olson partners Jerome Roth and Rosemarie Ring are defending LinkedIn.

The suit accuses LinkedIn of harvesting users’ email addresses without their consent to send invitations that are virtually spam. On message boards, one user accused LinkedIn of “hacking,” while another complained that the site was “hurting my reputation rather than helping it,” according to the complaint.

Koh noted that none of the plaintiffs had opted out of the invitation service, though they had the option to do so. She added that LinkedIn was more forthright about its harvesting of user information than many technology companies.

“Importantly, this disclosure is presented immediately prior to the moment at which LinkedIn is alleged to have engaged in wrongful conduct,” she wrote. “It was not, as is often the case, a disclosure buried in a Terms of Service or Privacy Policy.”

Koh dismissed plaintiffs’ claims filed under the Stored Communications Act and the Wiretap Act with leave to amend. She also ordered plaintiffs to rework their misrepresentation claims under the UCL, finding that plaintiffs had not shown they had relied on LinkedIn’s allegedly misleading statements to the public.

“The fact that some of the alleged misrepresentations appeared on screens that all users had to click through to register do not by themselves establish that any of the plaintiffs actually read or relied on the misrepresentations,” she wrote.

Contact the reporter at jlove@alm.com.