If you make data public online, can someone be prevented from using it? HiQ Labs (a data analytics company) said “no,” LinkedIn said “yes,” and now a federal court has agreed with HiQ in the latest courtroom round of a case that could have significant implications for securing enterprise data.
HiQ Labs scrapes information from LinkedIn profiles that users have set to be viewable to the Internet at large. It then combines that data with public data gleaned from other websites, and sells the results to employers looking for more insight into potential employees.
LinkedIn reportedly at first appeared to have no problem with the practice, but after launching its own somewhat similar service, served HiQ with a cease-and-desist letter which the smaller company has fought.
According to a report by Vice LinkedIn claimed that access to this public data violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The Ninth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, because the data belongs to the individual LinkedIn user and those users obviously intended it to be widely available, HiQ is breaking no laws in finding and using the data.
At its heart, the legal issue is over the definition of “authorized use” of data — something that security professionals must consider in many cases of deciding whether legal remedies can be sought for individuals and companies accessing data that is available through a Web interface. LinkedIn is likely to appeal this verdict.
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