in bug reports

LinkedIn is a Virus

So today this happened:


And I feel like I should explain how this went down, because the event and the aftermath have been interesting.

It started when I was responding to a friend asking me to connect on LinkedIn, via the automated emails. I get about 4-5 a week and I usually ignore 90% of them since I don’t recognize the name of the person asking me, but this one was different. I clicked the “connect” button in the HTML email, and got a page saying we were connected and by the way, do you want to import your address book to find more people?

I’d known the person that asked me to connect for about 8 years, so I figured I should try their Gmail connection tool to see who else I’ve known for years that I’ve missed. I clicked a button, it started importing, then it gave me a page showing six people with check boxes by each (everyone auto-checked) with a button to send an invite. I didn’t recognize 5 of the 6 people so I unchecked those, and hit the big connect button, not knowing that it was auto-selecting 1,138 other names I had to scroll down to see. I realized this mistake soon after clicking, and closed my browser tab hoping that would halt the process.

It didn’t.

The aftermath has been annoying, fun, interesting, and illuminating. Responses started coming back in at the rate of about 10-12 per minute for the first 15 minutes. A few people wrote personal notes back, which was nice. Two people called me, both people I barely exchanged email with for business reasons years ago.

After they started slowing down, I began reading them all and realized a few things:

  • There are a lot of social media manager type jobs
  • A heck of a lot of people work at Facebook now
  • Gmail treats subject lines as duplicates on first names and the clear winner of most responed-to LinkedIn requests are from other people named Matt and Matthew. There must be a reason for this.
  • People work at a lot of weird startups I’ve never heard of
  • It emailed every person I’ve ever interacted with over Gmail, I got one response from someone that works at a trucking company, probably because I fixed a typo of theirs on MetaFilter years ago

It’s unfortunate that LinkedIn works the way it does and that this happened, most people that responded to me with messages thought I was making a concerted gesture and trying to reconnect, and/or about to look for a job. I think of business contacts as a pretty serious thing, I don’t hand out business cards readily unless I really want to be called up by someone, and yet, LinkedIn just pushed out connections to over a thousand people on my behalf without me knowing what it was really doing.


  1. I have that nightmare all the time. Every single awkward connection I have, suddenly invited to my Facebook/LinkedIn/whatever account.
    It’s the new “forgot I signed up for a class, too late to drop, final is in half an hour” dream.

  2. Heh… I got the email, was briefly excited that an internet celebrity like Matt Haughey wanted to connect with me on LinkedIn (despite having no reason whatsoever to connect with boring me), and immediately accepted.
    In about five seconds I guessed what must have happened, checked Mathowie’s Twitter feed, and learned that I wasn’t special after all :(
    Jeff Lee

  3. Hah. I wondered what I had done to merit a connection from you. Now I know. I’ve removed the connection.

  4. I’m pretty sure it was anyone that ever emailed me with a gmail address, so maybe you never used one to contact me?

  5. Another problem is Gmail adding every person you interact with to your list of contacts by default. Just because you exchange email with someone doesn’t mean they’re someone you’re going to contact regularly. So LinkedIn might be the virus, but Gmail is helped spread it farther than it should have gone.

  6. Seems like you need to read a bit more carefully next time? Maybe?

  7. Yeah, but half the point (at least) is that you shouldn’t HAVE to. This should be a cautious, user-driven opt-in process by default; instead it’s a shambolic Zuckerbergian everybody-should-know-everybody (because that justifies our existence and bottom line) methodology. Because.

  8. Same thing with Circles. I really have no desire to text, call, or share anything directly with the 700 or so folks that I follow on Google Plus. I don’t want their details in my phone, and yet there they are. It’s nice to know that Timothy Wierd-last-name-with-foreign-characters’ birthday is today.. no I don’t want to send him a birthday wish.

  9. LinkedIn is not alone in this. In fact, this is a “classic” failure mode of exactly this functionality (import your address book into social network).
    I know of one company that was almost destroyed because they grew extremely quickly but generated immense bad will among the newly acquired ~ 1 M users (sophisticated, higher-income adults who objected).
    (I also know of folks who have run such a non-transparent acquisition loop intentionally, to great success, when used against less ornery populations.)
    Lesson is: if you are a white hat social product, head off this problem at the pass because the users aren’t worth the headache.

  10. I got caught by this too. What’s worse is that LinkedIn will CONTINUE to send out invitations to your 1138 contacts every two weeks until you manually withdraw the invite. One. At. A. Time.

  11. The same exact thing happened to me – it can’t be a mistake, the UI is designed to hide the fact its about to e-mail your entire contact list. I’m extremely careful about these sorts of things, but it got past me too. Very *very* sneaky.

  12. They have been doing this for years. Facebook did the same thing. In fact, Hotmail actually blocked Facebook invitation emails for quite a while – I believe right up until the time of their investment in them. They declare spam as evil on their own networks, but have depended on it to turn their businesses into multi-billion dollar ventures.

  13. Something similar happened to me, but in reverse, you might say. The mayor of Shoreline WA USA was duped into sending out unintended invites, just as you were. I thought it would be prestigious for my Mentifex AI project to be connected to His Honor the Mayor, so first I tried and failed to check with the Mayor to see if the invitation was sincere, and then I accepted the invite. When I finally got a chance to ask the Mayor about it, he exclaimed, “That was a mistake!” I asked him if I should unlink us, but, being a politician, he said that it wasn’t necessary. So I have been linked prestigiously to the local mayor for a year or two now.

  14. You really have to be careful with any app that connects to social media, they are really sneaky about it.
    Email doesn’t seem as intrusive as Facebook, and it usually gets a good response as indicated by this post, mostly I hate that they want access to my contacts.

  15. I’m sorry, it is not LinkedIn or GMail that makes me angry. It’s people that just hand over their entire contact lists to companies like LinkedIn or Facebook who are in the business of monetizing our personal info. You do realize that even if you unchecked all 1138 of those names, they still would have gotten an e-mail LinkedIn in the next week or two that would have said, “Hey do you know Matt Haughey?” Every time I get one of those, I ask myself what kind of person would be giving out my e-mail address willy-nilly. Not good business sense in my opinion.

  16. I think of LinkedIn more like coffee: A form of pure evil, that I have sworn off multiple times in the past, but due to its pervasiveness, I keep getting sucked in to, and then hating anew, and hating myself for getting duped again.

  17. Welcome to the 12 circles of LinkedIn hell. I’m sorry to have to tell you this but the fun is only just beginning. LinkedIn will *continue* to attempt to connect with your contacts (on your behalf, of course) for the next month or so. In about a week all you connections that didn’t sign up will get a “reminder” that you’d like to connect via LinkedIn. I believe they send 3 reminders in total. The only way to make it stop is to contact customer service directly.
    I discovered this when I similarly “asked” to connect to my 2000+ connections and was politely (but firmly) asked to stop the LinkedIn spam by a government department that I had done some work with. I had no idea.

  18. Hey Matt, I got your request last week and was totally perplexed! But honored, since I’ve been a long time fan and was surprised to see you request a connection. I guess we must have emailed years and years ago :).

  19. Yeah, looking at my email, it looks like we exchanged email about my PVRblog back in 2004. Cool to see where you work now, I’m a big fan of Redfin.

  20. Wow, you have that nightmare too! I’ve been out of school for nearly 30 years and still have it once a month or so.

  21. This happened to me too. I had to manually uninvite about 600 people because if they don’t respond within a few days LinkedIn sends them a reminder.
    It’s a very annoying and misleading feature.

  22. The *exact* same thing happened to me. People that I would have preferred to let history be history suddenly had invites from me. I was quite angry with LinkedIn and contacted their support. They were able to remove any unresponded invite requests (to prevent further invite requests as LinkedIn is persistent). While they were apologetic, I think the real problem is a user interface issue.

  23. Interesting, actually some days ago I had a similar werid experience from the other end of the story. I received a friend request of a person, whose name wasn’t familar to me at all. In her profile at said that she was a therapist. So I searched my Gmail for that person and it turned out that she was one of the shrinks I asked for sessions a few years ago, when I had some personal problems. I thought it was highly inappropriate that she was sending me a request, but it seems like linkedin probably also tricked her into sending wrong invites.

  24. How is this anyone else’s fault but your own? If we blindly start clicking all over web pages we are probably going to end up doing some things that we don’t intend. No UI can prevent all human error. LinkedIn is not a virus, but you get points for title sensationalism.

  25. I work in an advertising agency where we have everyone working in the company – including regional, Asia, Europe etc company in our Gmail contacts for easier comms.
    Guess what happened when I accidentally connected my work Gmail to Linkedin’s invite tool? Yeap, everyone in the company that has a Linkedin request from me.

  26. Yep. this happened to me too. Now my LinkedIn is recruiters galore. meh

  27. Snap. Happened to me too. And although most people on the receiving end of this “feature” (aka “feature-guaranteed-to-make-you-hated-in-one-second-flat”) just ignore the repeated reminders from someone they don’t know that well or don’t like, I got one nutjob who flamed me repeatedly because of that fatal click on “import address book” – which, like you, I obviously didn’t understand at the time I clicked on it. I subsequently sent an email to LinkedIn promising to denounce them all the way to Hell and back, and to be fair, a LinkedIn CSR agreed to delete about 1000 “invitees” who hadn’t responded yet. I suppose he did that.
    As I told them, though, this is the stupidest invention since … hmmm, I dunno. This one is in a class of its own. What kind of cretin would actually *want* to spam all his/her family/friends/acquaintances? Obviously they didn’t take my criticisms to heart.
    And as for “be more careful next time”? – I do not have the time or inclination to monitor LinkedIn’s more insane features, nor to set up my mailboxes so that they are scrupulously devoted to a) only friends with no business interest, b) friends whose opinion I value and also have a business interest and c) businesses that I don’t mind spamming in the hope they’ll find my services useful. In fact, forget c) because I simply don’t do that.
    So yes, this experience sucked so badly that I can no longer regard LinkedIn as a useful resource, because they obviously don’t think about the consequences of insane “features” like this.

  28. I seems like most services are trying to do this nowadays. It is more about them getting a bigger reach than you spamming your profile. I am sure that in these 1300+ emails that got send, some people did not have a LinkedIn profile and might have thought about creating one after all. Big win for LI, small annoyance for you.

  29. Wow! And I got chastised for asking people involved in my field, but who I did not already know, to connect. My thinking was that I don’t need to folks I already know, but that I wanted to expand my professional circle to include people who might use my services or worked at places or in situations that could use my services. But know, I was suspended from asking people to connect unless and until I promised never to ask someone I didn’t already know to connect. Mind you, the way they found out was that it did evidently bother someone I’d asked and so they mentioned it to LinkedIn. But the illogical thinking weirds me out.

  30. Me too, I’ve been having that dream for about four years since I’ve graduated.

  31. One more bigger virus is their endorse skills feature. It popupates 10 times a day. Sucks.

  32. Totally agree! It’s time to start voting with your feet. Who can say that LinkedIn or Facebook or …. has ever really brought one an advantage? Certainly not me….. So I just left them, canceled my accounts and ignore (push to spam folder) any invites…

  33. The UI of the LinkedIn feature is particularly misleading though. When I have seen other services do it they at least tell you that you are about to send out x number of messages.

  34. Same thing happened to me!
    So many people that I didn’t even want to be linked with. I even went through and un-friended people who had just accepted the connection.

  35. Did the exact same thing over a year ago. My initial thought was, “dear god, this work flow can’t possibly last.” I guess I was wrong.

  36. Exactly the same happened to me as well! Not so pleasant experience though.

  37. Some secret sauce: if you stop at that page showing all the pictures/names/checkboxes and back out, LinkedIn doesn’t forget who you know.
    It will then start including you in the suggested contacts for all those people, which is a little free marketing for a minute’s work.

  38. I said to my girlfriend, “Holy crap, Matt Haughey wants to connect with me!” I felt like Steve Martin in The Jerk on the day he got the new phone book. “Big things are going to start happening!”
    Oh and as for how I got in your contacts: Years ago you bounced me (deservedly and politely) for self-linking to my then-newspaper site and, after some time passed, I begged my way back into the good graces of the Metafilter family.
    Mystery solved.
    And, while I’ve got your attention, thanks for Metafilter.

  39. Hey Matt,
    I woke up this morning to find that LinkedIN had spammed hundreds of people from my address book without permission with invitations to connect. They sent them to alternate emails from people I’m already connected to, people I haven’t spoken with in years, they even sent one from me, to me. I didn’t even do 3 clicks, this happened while I was sleeping.
    If that’s not a virus, I don’t know what is. Feel free to shoot me a note if you’re interested in discussing more.

  40. Actually, I did exactly the same thing. It’s terrifically sneaky. It was really not clear that it was going to email everyone else in the list that is still “ticked” and it’s not clear there’s even more to scroll through.
    Of course Linkedin does the deliberately. I hated them for that too – it emailed anyone I’d ever interacted with, since 2007. Very, very embarrassing.

  41. Oh, and worse, some “people” I had corresponded with were actually people that I texted through an email to sms gateway. They continued to get stupidly long texts (sent as multiple texts) for weeks and weeks.

  42. Thanks for this post! I am happy to know that I am not alone. This process is very deceptive. I mean, if it could happen to a super-web-savvy guy like yourself…
    I certainly don’t want people I barely know or don’t know at all to think I’m a spammer or contact ho (fun twist – gmail must have captured my mother’s contacts when she visited me and borrowed my computer, because all her connections received invitations from me too).
    This method is so counter-intuitive to LinkedIn’s purpose, since it’s meant to be a professional network and you’re supposed to know the people you’re inviting, not just someone you may have emailed in a customer service department in 2008.
    At the end of the day, I decided to make peace with my inadvertent invitation blast, because I’m happy to connect with people if they’re willing to connect with me, now that LinkedIn has basically given the greenlight to the “ye all come” policy.

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