Using LinkedIn Automation Just Got 100% More RiskyNov 10, 2022
Using Linkedin automation could result in your LinkedIn account being banned.
Recently LinkedIn won two lawsuits against data scrapers. These decisions give LinkedIn more ammunition to crack down on fake profiles and bots on their platform. These are the two key tools firms use to automate Linkedin lead generation.
Using LinkedIn automation just got a whole lot more risky
If you've been using a Linkedin automation tool to view profiles and send connection requests and direct messages or InMail on LinkedIn, you may want to rethink your strategy…and soon.
LinkedIn has been on a mission to crack down on data scrapers, fake profiles, bots…all tools used by people who automate LinkedIn lead generation. Recent wins in these two lawsuits (one that went all the way to the Supreme Court) against data scrapers have given LinkedIn more ammunition to pursue these offenders. And LinkedIn is taking action. They’re investing heavily in technology and AI to detect LinkedIn automation tools, including those that send automated connection requests and direct messages.
Does LinkedIn allow automation?
The short and long answer is “No.”LinkedIn does not allow automation. As you can see in their policies, third-party software and extension are prohibited. Any violations of their User Agreement, such as using automation, can result in temporary or permanent bans of your account.
Here’s LinkedIn’s specific policy on automation tools:
“In order to protect our members' data and our website, we don't permit the use of any third party software, including "crawlers," bots, browser plug-ins, or browser extensions that scrape, modify the appearance of, or automate activity on LinkedIn's website. We also don't permit the use of fake accounts or fake engagement on LinkedIn's website…Any member who uses tools for such purposes is in violation of the User Agreement. This means that they risk having their accounts restricted or shut down.”
Most if not all of the LinkedIn automation tools claim that they’re “safe” because LinkedIn can’t detect them. Don’t be fooled. These products are not safe, and your profile is not safe if you use them.
What is Data Scraping?
Data scraping is using automated means to copy profile information and use it in another application. Some scraping has a legitimate purpose. For example, Google scrapes publicly available LinkedIn data to present in search results. But there are nefarious purposes too.
Before we discuss those purposes, let's address the difference between logged in and public data.
Publicly Available LinkedIn Data
Public data is that information in your LinkedIn profile that you designate as publicly available. You have the option of making none of it public. That means it's only shown to people who are logged into LinkedIn.
In the ongoing court case with hiQ, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that LinkedIn cannot prevent hiQ from scraping publicly available data. This is the case that LinkedIn took to the Supreme Court. They referred it back to the Appeals court, which reaffirmed their original ruling. But the story did not end there.
Logged-In LinkedIn Data
Logged-in data is that data available to someone when they are logged into LinkedIn and viewing a 1st degree connection. This is an important distinction, as there is a lot more data available about you for people who are logged in and connected to you. That distinction played into the most recent decision in the hiQ case. It also played a huge role in the Mantheos Pte lawsuit (which I discuss below).
Let’s briefly talk about each of these lawsuits, and then we’ll discuss why data scraping is a problem.
LinkedIn vs. hiQ Data Scraping Lawsuit
The now defunct hiQ used data from LinkedIn to create employment profiles, which it sold to employers.
hiQ was scraping public LinkedIn profiles using automated software. This was the issue LinkedIn originally took all the way to the Supreme Court (which referred the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals). That’s the court that ruled that scraping publicly available data is permissible.
However, LinkedIn continued the fight and on November 7th, 2022 won a significant victory. LinkedIn accuses hiQ of reverse engineering the platform and attempting to avoid detection by using LinkedIn automation tools to simulate human site-access behaviors. In addition, hiQ hired independent contractors for QA to log into LinkedIn and manually verify data scraped by hiQ. When their accounts were restricted, hiQ instructed the contractors to create fake profiles.
Sarah Wright, LinkedIn’s VP of Legal, Litigation, Competition and Enforcement, posted on November 4th 2022, “Today in the hiQ legal proceeding, the Court announced a significant win for LinkedIn and our members against personal data scraping, among other platform abuses. The Court ruled that LinkedIn’s User Agreement unambiguously prohibits scraping and the unauthorized use of scraped data as well as fake accounts, affirming LinkedIn’s legal positions against hiQ for the past six years. The Court also found that hiQ knew for years that its actions violated our User Agreement, and that LinkedIn is entitled to move forward with its claim that hiQ violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.”
This lifted restrictions and allowed LinkedIn to crack down more heavily on people using automation. They’re now investing heavily in technology to detect fake profiles and stop people from automating outreach on the platform.Even if your purpose is not data scraping, it’s very likely that you’ll get caught up in this sweep if you’re automating LinkedIn lead generation.
LinkedIn vs. Mantheos Pte
LinkedIn sued Mantheos Pte for unauthorized logged in scraping of millions of LinkedIn profiles. Mantheos used automated technologies such as scraping, crawling, and bots with many fake accounts to access LinkedIn. They connected the fake accounts to fake debit cards and used those fake cards to set up Sales Navigator trials. That gave them 30 days per fake account to send hundreds of connection requests and spam messages. The fake accounts allowed them to scrape profile information that is only available for real, logged-in LinkedIn members. (If you’ve ever wondered why you get so many connection requests from fake accounts, this is one example of the game they’re playing.)
Mantheos settled with LinkedIn on May 6, 2022. LinkedIn’s blog said: “Today LinkedIn took another step forward in its fight against unauthorized data scraping by successfully resolving the lawsuit it filed against Singapore-based company Mantheos Ptd. Ltd on February 1, 2022. As part of the resolution, Mantheos agreed to permanently delete all scraped LinkedIn member profile data, destroy all software it used to scrape LinkedIn profiles, and stop accessing LinkedIn member profile data through scraping or other automated means.”
Why is data scraping a problem?
I think there are multiple reasons that LinkedIn takes data scraping so seriously.
- They’re protecting their turf. Other platforms have tried to replicate LinkedIn in the past, and LinkedIn will go to great lengths to protect its business.
- They’re protecting members. Scraped data from recent LinkedIn hacking incidents has found its way to the underground market where it can be used for phishing, ransomware, display-name spoofing or other attacks.
- hiQ was using scraped LinkedIn data to create their own platform and sell information derived from that data to their customers. In this case, it was using the data to predict whether employees might be considering leaving their jobs.
- Mantheos was scraping logged in data and selling it as a data aggregator.
- Most data scrapers combine LinkedIn data with data from other sources (like hacked files from data breaches). They can potentially sell this data to bad actors who would use it for social engineering scams.
What does this have to do with LinkedIn automation for lead generation?
LinkedIn automation tools designed for lead generation use methods identical to the approaches used by both hiQ and Mantheos. They automate profile views, which LinkedIn perceives as scraping. Then they send automated connection requests, which is exactly what Mantheos was doing.
Early in 2021 LinkedIn began limiting premium account holders to roughly 100 connection requests a week and free accounts to roughly 5 a day. (Note, these numbers aren’t published, and are only estimates.)
LinkedIn automation tool providers and outsourced LinkedIn lead generation firms responded by instructing clients to create fake profiles to get around the limits.
For example, recently, one of my clients uncovered hundreds of fake companies with 1000’s of fake profiles all being used to generate leads for one company in the franchise industry.
LinkedIn is making heavy investments right now into technologies and AI to detect these types of automation and shut them down.
On Oct 10, 2022, LinkedIn appears to have executed a big purge of fake profiles that claimed to be employed by 3 specific companies. According to KrebsOnSecurity, LinkedIn purged over 291,620 profiles claiming to work at Apple, 411,320 profiles from Amazon, and 288,281 profiles claiming to work at LinkedIn.
On October 25th, 2022, LinkedIn announced new features to help detect fake profiles.
If you're found to be using a LinkedIn automation tool to send automated connection requests, DMs or InMails on LinkedIn, you’re likely to have your account suspended, and you could be subject to legal action. Take a moment to consider the cost…
- What would happen if you couldn’t log into LinkedIn for a week? For a month?
- What if your prospects were unable to view your LinkedIn profile before taking a meeting?
- How would it impact your career if you are permanently banned from LinkedIn?
So if you're looking to build your LinkedIn network the old-fashioned way – by connecting with real people – you're in luck. But if you're relying on LinkedIn automation to do the work for you, it's time to find another way.
What's the risk of using LinkedIn automation tools or automated LinkedIn outreach?
LinkedIn can permanently ban your account if they see activity that resembles automation.
“For several months, my account was completely deleted from the platform. I couldn’t log into LinkedIn at all, and my profile couldn’t be found when prospective clients searched for me. This severely limited my professional online presence at a time when I was working to build my business,” Sanoja told me.
Luckily, he was able to make a case to LinkedIn, and his account was reinstated. “But” Sanoja explained, “this happened only because I was able to prove that I never used any kind of automation.”
Being unable to have a presence on LinkedIn could have a severe impact on your ability to get a job and advance your career if you are an employee. And if you are a business owner, it could hurt your chances of generating awareness about your business and landing clients.
Here's more info on how to stay out of LinkedIn Jail (having your account restricted).
A better way to generate leads without automated LinkedIn outreach
The risks of automated LinkedIn lead generation heavily outweigh the benefits. But frankly, LinkedIn automation also gets terrible results.
After some practice, they’re consistently getting meetings with roughly 34% of the cold leads they connect with on LinkedIn. That means that for every 100 connection requests they send, they get 26 meetings. And their conversion from first meeting to qualified opportunity is 54%. So they’re adding 14 deals to the pipeline for every 100 connection requests.
They’re doing this using a very human-to-human outreach approach. If you’d like to know more about this, send me a connection request on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/candyceedelen/ or check out our course - Prospecting Mastery and the Prospecting Accelerator.
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