Readers are probably wondering what’s become of me, and all I can say is that career challenges are occupying 120% of my time. I do miss the writing, and hope I will get back to it soon, though it seems unlikely it will be before December. So it is all the more unfortunate that today’s post has almost nothing to do with science at all. It is an apology.
Which is weird. I have nothing to apologize for, and yet I have to apologize to everyone on my contacts list for the unsolicited invitation they received to become my contact on LinkedIn. Or rather, LinkedIn needs to apologize, but they won’t, so I have to do it.
I use LinkedIn sparingly, though I have found it beneficial on occasion. But one of its features is that its software is constantly asking you if you want to make LinkedIn-contact with people whom it thinks you might know. That’s understandable; LinkedIn has to make money, and information and contacts are money for them. But there’s one LinkedIn request that you have to be careful with, in which they ask for permission to import your contacts lists and send LinkedIn invitations to make contact with every single person on that list. I don’t have to explain to you why this would typically be undesirable… it’s obvious. Just think of one person you’d rather not talk to, or who’d rather not hear from you, who might be down in a forgotten corner of your list of contacts.
In the old days, if you were to plan something so drastic as contacting hundreds of unrelated people on a single day about joining your professional network, you’d be discussing it on the phone or at a desk with a company representative, having a conversation. And you’d probably have to sign a piece of paper. Moreover, you’d have at least a few minutes, if not days, to consider what you’d done and change your mind.
In the modern age — ok, here’s our one connection to science, which provides us with incredible speed and automation — clicking is enough. But everyone knows that it is easy to misread something and click on it, or do something through accidental clicking of a touch-pad, a slip of a mouse, or a bump of a touchscreen. I don’t know which of these happened to me yesterday. In any case, in order to take an action as outlandish and irrevocable as sending blanket faux-personalized email invitations to everyone I have ever known, it is essential for a company to have a warning pop-up: “This action will send email invitations to 452 individuals. Are you sure you want to do this?” The default should be “No“, and you have to click on “Yes” for the action to go ahead.
But for LinkedIn, as I discovered yesterday, a single click is apparently all it takes, with no warning screen. In my opinion, this is somewhere between unethical, negligent, and sneaky.
Actually let’s just call it evil.
It’s also extremely stupid.
First, it forced me to issue a broad apology to everyone who might be on my contacts list for some reason — an apology for LinkedIn’s inappropriate activity, and for my own inability to prevent it. I considered sending 452 separate emails, or a blanket email to 452 people, but decided that a blog post would be much easier to arrange, somewhat less time-consuming, and slightly less embarrassing.
Second, seeing the irreparable disarray in my LinkedIn account caused by yesterday’s debacle, and considering the numerous embarrassing professional and personal situations that LinkedIn (which purports to help careers!) had created in a single stroke, I decided my best bet was to permanently delete the account, and do no more business with LinkedIn.
Is there a science-and-society lesson here? Maybe not. Companies have been using subterfuge to take advantage of consumers for generations, and consumers have been fighting back however they can, often by boycotting those companies and by word-of-mouth criticism. That said, the speedy, efficient electrons of our electronic age have made it all much more public and more immediate — for good and for evil.