Putting HiQ vs. LinkedIn in Perspective August 16, 2017

In light of a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn, Daniel Tunkelang, a former LinkedIn employee and data scientist has summarized the case and offered his own opinions on this matter.

We agree with Mr Tunkelang's standpoint and would like to further digest his summary in the context of our operation.

Among many battling points, two issues stand out - UCL, the California's Unfair Competition Law, and CFAA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In other words, "Fairness" and "Privacy" are the two main concerns. The judge believes that by disallowing HiQ from downloading their public data, LinkedIn has an unfair competitive advantage. Furthermore, if the data source for HiQ is cut off, the data analysis startup would cease to exist. Because of such unbalanced hardships, the Judge dismissed LinkedIn's privacy claim. After all, it's public data, so it's free for all.

First, we would like to put UCL, the Fairness component in perspective. In the judge's view, LinkedIn is like a grocery store. It also operates a restaurant. Most of the grocery customers are direct consumers. Then there is HiQ, a competing restaurant, who also purchases from the LinkedIn grocery store. Being the only grocery store in town, if LinkedIn chooses not to sell to HiQ, the HiQ restaurant would go out of business.

Our view is different. HiQ is more like a catering business, but without its own food. The LinkedIn restaurant has been offering catering services all along. The in came HiQ to offer their own catering, buying from the LinkedIn restaurant, not the grocery store. HiQ now directly competes with LinkedIn restaurant.

One of Antradar's core services is building custom web crawlers. Together with our custom application capability, we were often consulted by startups that are similar to HiQ to build their data acquisition pipeline. To date we have shut down every single one of them, not on moral or legal grounds, but for feasibility and risk reasons.

HiQ's dependency on LinkedIn data was seeded since day one. Internally we call cases like this "a company without a business". If HiQ were selling data visualization tools, or LinkedIn plugins, the risk might be justified. But to present itself as an alternative source of talent intelligence it better has its own source.

Now the privacy concern. It's easy to get lost in the legal bickering of what is Public and how public data should be covered by CFAA. Privacy laws were created to protect the consumers. When a LinkedIn user consents to make their profile public, there is expectation that such public display would be in favor of such user. For example, more visibility and more changes of being discovered for positive reasons.

So in addition to the previous mentioned risk component of Data Ownership, here's another factor we always examine - the Use Case. What's HiQ's use case? Who do they serve? One of HiQ's use cases is to detect the updating frequency and recency of a LinkedIn user, prompting their employer that there's a higher possibility that their employees are seeking new jobs. This is definitely betraying the very reason a LinkedIn user chooses to have a public profile. Privacy is not the only thing that's violated here. The LinkedIn users might have grounds for a class action suit if HiQ furthers their damage.

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