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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

LinkedIn ran undisclosed social experiments on 20 million users for years to study job success

Kathleen Wong
Originally posted 25 SEPT 22

A new study analyzing the data of over 20 million LinkedIn users over the timespan of five years reveals that our acquaintances may be more helpful in finding a new job than close friends.

Researchers behind the study say the findings will improve job mobility on the platform, but since users were unaware of their data being studied, some may find the lack of transparency concerning.  

Published this month in Science, the study was conducted by researchers from LinkedIn, Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 2015 and 2019. Researchers ran "multiple large-scale randomized experiments" on the platform's "People You May Know" algorithm, which suggests new connections to users. 

In a practice known as A/B testing, the experiments included giving certain users an algorithm that offered different (like close or not-so-close) contact recommendations and then analyzing the new jobs that came out of those two billion new connections.


A question of ethics

Privacy advocates told the New York Times Sunday that some of the 20 million LinkedIn users may not be happy  that their data was used without consent. That resistance is part of a longstanding  pattern of people's data being tracked and used by tech companies without their knowledge.

LinkedIn told the paper it "acted consistently" with its user agreement, privacy policy and member settings.

LinkedIn did not respond to an email sent by USA TODAY on Sunday. 

The paper reports that LinkedIn's privacy policy does state the company reserves the right to use its users' personal data.

That access can be used "to conduct research and development for our Services in order to provide you and others with a better, more intuitive and personalized experience, drive membership growth and engagement on our Services, and help connect professionals to each other and to economic opportunity." 

It can also be deployed to research trends.

The company also said it used "noninvasive" techniques for the study's research. 

Aral told USA TODAY that researchers "received no private or personally identifying data during the study and only made aggregate data available for replication purposes to ensure further privacy safeguards."