Does LinkedIn allow automation and scraping? Which services are legitimate and which aren’t? There is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s hard to navigate it all. But, if LinkedIn is the place where you build your personal brand and generate leads, you’re risking a lot by not knowing.
Let’s be honest though, who reads the User Agreement of all the services they sign up to?
Hand on heart, we’ve skipped right to the bottom of a few. Their wordings are lengthy, they are full of jargon and there’s normally a bunch of legalese.
So, in this article we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve gone through the User Agreement with a fine tooth comb, we’ve looked at various automation precedents and we’ve compiled the relevant information (sources included) so that you can select safe and appropriate tools.
What are automation and scraping?
Before we dive into the details, lets get to the basics. What exactly are automation and scraping? Automation means to create a tool or process to do something automatically. Automation typically allows you to take the manual work out of the task and do it more efficiently.
Automation on LinkedIn may refer to mass connection requests, in-mail messages, auto engagement or similar tools.
In the same vein, scraping is a type of automation normally used for gathering data.
According to Wikipedia, the definition is as follows:
“Web scraping, web harvesting, or web data extraction is data scraping used for extracting data from websites. While web scraping can be done manually by a software user, the term typically refers to automated processes implemented using a bot or web crawler. It is a form of copying in which specific data is gathered and copied from the web, typically into a central local database or spreadsheet, for later retrieval or analysis.”– Wikipedia: Web Scraping
Web scraping is all about getting data from websites. Data can be valuable and lots of people would like to use that data, some for purposes more nefarious than others. Therefore, companies will often develop automated tools to crawl pages and gather the information en-masse.
In some cases web scraping is a legitimate and necessary function of the internet, but mostly, companies and users don’t like it, for obvious reasons.
How does web scraping work?
Web scraping typically works via automated crawlers (just some computer code that goes through the website line-by-line, extracting information) or for private data, through a browser add-on.
What does the LinkedIn User Agreement say about scraping?
LinkedIn is quite clear about it’s scraping policy. Scraping of the platform is simply not allowed.
Scraping is clearly a violation of the User Agreement. The following excerpt from the LinkedIn User Agreement, section 8.22 outlines the violation:
[Do not] Develop, support or use software, devices, scripts, robots or any other means or processes (including crawlers, browser plugins and add-ons or any other technology) to scrape the Services or otherwise copy profiles and other data from the Services;LinkedIn User Agreement
It’s pretty clear from the text that scraping is explicitly not allowed, be that with robots, scripts or crawlers. That certainly outlaws any of the mass scraping services which collect large amounts of public facing user data. A lot of lead-gen services are using scraping to collect their data, be careful with your choice.
What does the LinkedIn User Agreement say about automation?
Interestingly, LinkedIn also explicitly asks that you do not support ‘browser plugins’ [browser extensions or add-ons]. This means that many automation services violate the user agreement.
“LinkedIn is committed to keeping its members’ data safe and its website free from fraud and abuse. 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 (also called “add-ons”), that scrapes, modifies the appearance of, or automates activity on LinkedIn’s website. Such tools violate the User Agreement, including, but not limited to, many of the “Don’ts” listed in Section 8.2.”Linkedin Help – Prohibited Software and Extensions
Browser plugins (or extensions) are often used by companies as a way of gathering a user’s private data and/or for performing automation tasks while appearing as if you are manually using the service.
How does that work? Typically, the user logs in to LinkedIn with the browser plugin activated, whereby the service gets access to your session token. From there it scrapes and interacts with the website as if you are logged in. Despite what many people think, the snippet above shows that these services explicitly violate the LinkedIn User Agreement. The distinction here is clear – these tools are a type of workaround to automate interactions with the human facing website (as opposed to using LinkedIn’s exposed back-end services).
TL;DR – be wary of any service using a browser plugin, extension or add-on.
Legality vs LinkedIn User Agreement
Just because a service violates the LinkedIn User Agreement, does that mean it’s illegal?
Well, violating a user agreement, on it’s own, does not necessarily make it illegal. Unethical? Maybe.
Scraping itself sits in a bit of a legal grey area and we recommend to get the proper advice before embarking on any scraping mission. However, the following guidelines play a factor:
- Did you accept the Terms and Conditions of the service? If you accepted the terms and conditions and then scraped content it’s probably illegal. Of course, a lot of third party services don’t accept any user agreements and do the scraping on your behalf – it’s bit of a grey area.
- Is the amount of scraping reasonable? Small scale scraping is more legitimate than services that capture millions of data points and interrupt the websites service.
- Does the scraper make an effort to avoid anti-scraping mechanisms? If the service hides its IP, avoids CAPTCHAs etc, it’s more than likely illegal.
- Data Privacy – To be legal, the service must comply with local data privacy regulations such as GDPR.
- Respect copyright – As well as privacy laws, scraping services must comply with copyright laws. You can’t just take someones data and use it as if it were your own.
A brief overview can be found here, provided by ‘Discover Digital Law’.
As you can see above, there are a lot of ways that scraping can fall into illegal territory. Despite that, there are some applications that exist in the grey area and are not necessarily illegal. Tread with caution.
What are the consequences?
OK, so now we’ve determined that using scrapers, browser plugins and extensions violates the LinkedIn User Agreement. So what?
Well, for the average LinkedIn user it’s probably no big deal. No one is getting sent to jail for small scale scraping infringements (but seriously… I am not a lawyer, your mileage may vary).
Real consequences exist for companies and individuals whose livelihood is, in part, derived from LinkedIn. LinkedIn can and do ban users for infringing upon their User Agreement. We personally know of multiple users that had to stop using browser plugins after being warned by LinkedIn about their use.
This Reddit was user banned from LinkedIn for automating their job applications (they applied to 3000 in a day!).
If LinkedIn is one of your main lead generation outlets or places for building your personal brand, it’s quite the risk.
Are there any valid types of automation?
Automation isn’t always a dirty word. Automation just means creating a tool or process to do something automatically. Can this be done safely on LinkedIn without violating the User Agreement?
Yes, of course!
When automation is done through LinkedIn’s developer APIs (application programming interface), then the service is completely approved. When LinkedIn exposes an API, they are allowing developers to access certain features with the express intent of third party development of services and solutions.
In fact, you can see what types of automation are supported by LinkedIn by accessing the developer portal. Many typical automation applications can be seen under ‘Consumer’, ‘Marketing’ or ‘Sales’.
In addition, to get access to an API, developers normally need to explain their use case and explicitly ask for an API access key. It’s a sure sign that the service is legit.
More information about authorized APIs and access can be found via the LinkedIn help centre.
If you’re using an automation tool on LinkedIn and unsure whether it’s OK, check whether they are using LinkedIn’s external API endpoints.
How to get your LinkedIn account data?
As we’ve shown in the article LinkedIn, mostly, does not allow data scraping. But is there another way to get access to your own personal data without violating the user agreement?
LinkedIn helpfully allows you download your personal data. It takes around 24 hours to process and deliver your data, but it contains loads of relevant information.
In addition, if you code, various statistics and data can be accessed via the supported APIs mentioned above. There are a number of third party tools which can do this for you too.
In this article we’ve discussed the dos and don’ts of automation and scraping on LinkedIn. LinkedIn has clear guidelines and policies, and we recommend to choose your services carefully.
- Services that scrape public data from LinkedIn.
- Browser plugins, extensions and add-ons that gather data and automate actions while you are logged in
Proceed safely with:
- Services that use approved LinkedIn developer APIs
If you have any doubts as to whether a service is scraping or incorrectly using automation, simply ask what approved APIs they are using. Most companies will happily divulge the information because they don’t want to be associated with the dodgier offerings.