A judge just obliged Linkedin to allow third-party companies to copy public LinkedIn profile data. Of course, Linkedin appealed this decision but this can be a precedent in the space — and for good, contrary to what first commentators are saying.
This is typically what I call an API neutrality case.
First, let’s agree that an API is a remote access to your digital assets, so you should have total control to license this asset to anyone you choose, for business reasons or otherwise but you get to decide.
But in the context of public user-generated data, things may be different. This data was entered by Linkedin users, working for free to fill their public profile and leverage the platform. Linkedin uses this data to leverage the critical mass of users to be the main business social network. On top of that, Linkedin can generate private intelligent and data based on the dynamic relations of the people and companies on the network. And this is where there is the value.
Linkedin scaled their platform thanks to this free work, so it should not be their choice but the users’ choice to decide it they allow third party startups to access it to build a new generation of apps. Some will argue that Linkedin users have signed Linkedin terms of service, but in a context of such big monopolistic platform, not allowing public profile user-generated data to be publicly accessible by 3rd parties is, in my opinion, abusive and not in the best interest of the users.
They could do like Facebook is doing with OAuth protocol via the “Connect with Facebook” buttons in the context of their platform “reciprocity” rule. Even users permissions like the “friends_list” disappeared over time, but they are a lot more open on that.
Just like Airbnb
This is like the story of Airbnb. They scraped Craigslist to bootstrap their platform at the beginning, but which now no longer allows third parties to scrape their website to find renters. This is unfair if we want fair competition and a free market. Startups, at the beginning, avoid legal or moral barriers — and when they become bigger they favor of barriers to entry on their market? Really? Have we no memory? Are we so greedy that we want to avoid others to benefits from what made us successful?
More open data is good for innovation and benefits the platform economy. In the best interest of users, it should be users’ decisions, not the platform’s decision. I will sum this up in one sentence from the French priest Lacordaire: “For the strong and the weak, for the rich and the poor, between the master and the slave, sometimes the freedom is the oppression and the law is the protection.”
For users, the law should oblige platforms to give them the choice about fair third party access to their user-generated data. I hope the judgment will be confirmed and that will make that case.
Some key stories on the business of APIs: