San Jose Public Library faces off with LinkedIn over privacy concerns

The San Jose Public Library is locked in a standoff with LinkedIn, and the library director says unless the company continues to allow library patrons to access its online classes confidentially — as it has for years under its former name, Lynda.com — they’ll have to drop the service.

Lynda.com was founded in 1995 by digital special effects animator and multimedia professor Lynda Weinman as an online support system for her books and lectures. The site started offering online courses in 2002, and two years later had 100 classes on its roster to help students learn creative and business skills. LinkedIn bought the site in 2015 with the intention of bringing it under its umbrella and rebranding it LinkedIn Learning.

That transition is nearly complete. But when the tech company starts requiring users to create a LinkedIn account to access the service in September, San Jose’s library director says she won’t ask patrons to “sacrifice their confidentiality.” The library has offered the online classes to all cardholders since 2002, and patrons can access the courses on any computer by signing into the library’s website using their card number and a PIN.

But now requiring a LinkedIn profile — including a person’s name and email address — and acceptance of its privacy policy to access the same content means users will be giving up some of their privacy to LinkedIn, which in turn reserves the right to use personal information in ways the library director says creates “a clash of values and perspectives on individual privacy.”

“Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought and free association,” San Jose Public Library Director Jill Bourne said in a Wednesday interview. “Our libraries ensure public access to Constitutionally protected knowledge.”

So if the company isn’t willing to compromise, she says she “wouldn’t have any choice but to terminate the service that the library is currently paying for.”

The California State Library issued a press release last week alerting its patrons and the public to the upcoming change in LinkedIn policy.

“Currently, to access Lynda.com in a library, a person logs in using their library card and a PIN,” California State Librarian Greg Lucas wrote in a July 22 statement. “No other personal information is required. Under the newly rebranded LinkedIn Learning, library patrons would be required to create a personal profile and agree to LinkedIn’s user agreement and privacy policy before being able to use LinkedIn Learning. By agreeing to the user agreement and privacy policy, the user surrenders to LinkedIn the power to share the information contained in a user profile with whoever LinkedIn wants.”

That statement was preceded by a stark warning from the American Library Association that libraries continuing to provide the LinkedIn service after the change in policy are risking running afoul of state library laws.

“The requirement for users of LinkedIn Learning to disclose personally identifiable information is completely contrary to ALA policies addressing library users’ privacy, and it may violate some states’ library confidentiality laws,” ALA President Wanda Kay Brown wrote. “It also violates the librarian’s ethical obligation to keep a person’s use of library resources confidential. We are deeply concerned about these changes to the terms of service and urge LinkedIn and its owner, Microsoft, to reconsider their position on this.”

That prompted a response from a LinkedIn Learning executive this week.

“We recognize that this is a change for both librarians and their patrons,” wrote LinkedIn Vice President of Learning Solutions Mike Derezin in a July 28 blog post. “Our commitment to you is that protecting our members’ trust and data is our first priority and guiding principle.”

Andrea Roberts, a senior LinkedIn communications manager, told San José Spotlight the only personal information required to create a profile for LinkedIn Learning is a first name, a last name and an email address. And once they’ve created a profile, Roberts says library users can immediately alter privacy settings according to their preferences.

That’s not good enough for Bourne, who says patrons rely on libraries to respect confidentiality and can’t be expected to understand what’s at risk or how to protect their privacy. She’s firm in her position that if LinkedIn doesn’t change course the San Jose Public Library will find an alternative source for its patrons to take online learning courses.

But with the change coming next month, the LinkedIn spokeswoman says that’s not likely.

“We’re listening very closely to libraries,” Roberts said. “But at this time we do not have plans to change our policy.”

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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