As LinkedIn Learning Subsumes Lynda.com, Library Groups Raise Privacy Concerns

Jul 23, 2019

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 24 with new information from the American Library Association and LinkedIn.


Libraries have long been enthusiastic subscribers to Lynda.com, offering their patrons access to the once-upstart company’s collection of educational videos on a range of topics. But this week, library groups urged their members to stop using the service if the company—now owned by LinkedIn, a subsidiary of Microsoft—makes planned changes to Lynda.com that will require library patrons to create a LinkedIn profile to access the service.

LinkedIn officials say the change is part of a long-planned integration of Lynda.com videos into the rest of the services it offers through LinkedIn Learning. A company spokesperson also said that it is being done for security reasons, since the current system that many libraries use to verify identities with library cards is prone to being “compromised by bots.”

The American Library Association said in a statement Monday that the planned changes to Lynda.com, which are slated to happen by the end of September 2019, “would significantly impair library users’ privacy rights.” That same day, the California State Library recommended that its users discontinue Lynda.com when it fully merges with LinkedIn Learning if it institutes the changes.

“Currently, to access Lynda.com in a library, a person logs in using their library card and a PIN. No other personal information is required,” said California’s State Librarian Greg Lucas in the statement. “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.”

The library groups argue that by requiring users to create LinkedIn accounts to watch Lynda videos, the company is going from following best practices about privacy and identity protection to potentially asking libraries to violate a range of ethics codes they have pledged to uphold. The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, for instance, states that: “All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.”

In an interview, Lucas, the state librarian of California, said the biggest problem with the new approach is that library patrons are essentially being forced to become LinkedIn customers, and to give personal information to the company. While individual internet users agree to click-share agreements all the time to get free services in exchange for personal data, he says libraries have so far refused to force its patrons into such arrangements. He described keeping the trust of users as “serious business,” adding: “If you don’t draw a line somewhere then you’re constantly in retreat.”

The change will not impact most colleges and university libraries or corporate users of Lynda.com services, who will not be required to force users to set up a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn officials say that’s because colleges and corporations have more robust ways to identify users than public libraries do.

LinkedIn Learning posted a blog post in June by Mike Derezin, vice president of learning solutions at LinkedIn, that touted the changes at Lynda.com as a benefit to library users because they will get access to more content through LinkedIn Learning than they did through Lynda.com alone.

“We recognize that this is a change for both librarians and their patrons,” Derezin wrote, adding that the company is committed to protecting members’ data. It said that library users, like all LinkedIn users, have the ability to set their profile to “private mode” which would keep the information hidden from search engine.

That is not enough to satisfy officials at the library groups, who point out that LinkedIn profiles are public by default, and that creating one forces library users agree to the company’s terms of service.

In an interview Tuesday, Andrea Roberts, a spokesperson for LinkedIn Learning, said that although the company is listening to the feedback by libraries, “at this point we don’t have current plans to change this.”

“We’re in the process of a full migration from Lynda to LinkedIn Learning,” she added. “It has been part of our business from the get-go that we were going to migrate from Lynda to LinkedIn Learning.”

She added that the current system that libraries use to verify identities with library cards only was prone to being “compromised by bots,” and therefore represented a security risk.

LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com in 2015 for $1.5 billion. The following June, Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, the company’s largest-ever acquisition.

Erin Berman, a librarian at Alameda County Library in California who leads a committee on intellectual freedom for the American Library Association, said she has met with LinkedIn officials to press the issue and explain the position of libraries. But she has found the company’s response to be largely dismissive. She said that plenty of other vendors work with libraries without complaining of the security issues LinkedIn has raised.

“I would love to see LinkedIn change their policy and to make a solution that works for libraries,” she said. “I have gotten zero indication that this will happen.”

Berman said that about 40 libraries have pledged to drop the service unless the company changes its planned approach.


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