Linkedin located at 2029 Stierlin Ct, Mountain View, CA 94043
Linkedin located at 2029 Stierlin Ct, Mountain View, CA 94043 (Jason Doiy)

PALO ALTO ­— Spambots have infiltrated LinkedIn, and the professional networking site is fighting back.

The Mountain View–based company filed suit in the Northern District of California on Monday alleging that unknown intruders used automated software programs to create thousands of fake LinkedIn accounts and scrape data from legitimate user profile pages. The company, which believes the abuse began in May 2013, has nearly 260 million members.

“We’re a members-first organization and we feel we have a responsibility to protect the control that our members have over the information they put on LinkedIn,” a spokesman for the company said in a statement.

In a 16-page complaint filed by Munger Tolles & Olson, LinkedIn says those involved not only breached the company’s user agreement, but also violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and California’s Comprehensive Computer Access and Fraud Act.

The alleged infiltration “undermines the integrity and effectiveness of LinkedIn’s professional network by polluting it with thousands of fake member profiles,” the suit states. Moreover, LinkedIn contends that the defendants are using information scraped from its site to compete with the company’s Recruiter product, a fee-generating premium service that allows headhunters to locate and recruit candidates.

LinkedIn says it employed numerous defenses against fraud that the intruders managed to circumvent. The company launched an investigation after observing thousands of seemingly fake accounts rapidly viewing numerous profiles.

Its probe showed that the defendants operated through a cloud platform offered by Amazon Web Services, which allows users to rent virtual computers to run programs. Amazon was not targeted in the suit, but LinkedIn says it will serve the company with a subpoena in order to identify those behind the spambot program.

Munger Tolles partners Jerome Roth and Jonathan Blavin filed the complaint. The suit, which asks for expedited discovery to identify those responsible, seeks an injunction against the defendants as well as damages and attorney fees.

LinkedIn also turned to Roth to defend the company in a Northern District privacy class action, in which the company is accused of misappropriating user identities and contact lists for marketing purposes.

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