You may have unknowingly granted LinkedIn access to hundreds of your contacts and emails. The confusing privacy policy and slippery UI make it difficult to tell how much data you’re sharing.  It’s probably a lot more than you realize. Read on to learn how to reclaim your privacy.

crowd of people walking down busy city street
LinkedIn’s methods for gathering data from its over 562 million registered users are shrouded (user numbers reported by LinkedIn as of August 2018*). Usually, they don’t ask permission, they just uncheck new Privacy Controls for you. It’s no wonder they’ve faced numerous lawsuits.

LinkedIn seems to know everyone you’ve ever emailed: The People You May Know feature seems to make predictions based on information you’ve never knowingly transmitted. Before I explain how this works, here’s a quick fix:

How to remove your imported contacts from LinkedIn:

Go to Connections -> Add Connections -> Manage imported contacts (top right of page) -> click “select all” and delete all

Linkedin how to manage imported contacts(This is easiest to do on desktop: forget performing half the functions you want to on the iPhone app.)

How LinkedIn is seemingly psychic about people you may know

  1. Other users’ actions: This algorithm is their secret sauce. LinkedIn analyzes other users’ searches and viewing histories to make assumptions about people you may know. I.e., if Sheryl and Dean searched for both you and Tony, then you and Tony may know each other. Multiply this across many users. The result is an algorithm that predicts your likely contacts without ever accessing your actual contacts. You may see recommendations to connect with someone who has the same name as someone you know, but is a totally different person.
  2. Your contacts: You may have granted LinkedIn access to your contacts, which often happens inadvertently by using the app. “Inadvertent” is the keyword for most privacy issues with LinkedIn, because its strategy hinges upon 1) the fact that most users don’t read fine print and 2) that its UI, especially on mobile, effectively shuffles users along a permission-granting bender.

    LinkedIn app import contacts screen UI

    Strategically designed buttons and CTAs usher users along a permission-granting path

  3. Your login: When logged in, even if you close the tab, LinkedIn has access to any activity you take on a site with a LinkedIn plugin or authentication that you’ve granted. To avoid this tracking, log out of LinkedIn whenever you’re done with your business.

I began researching this because I noticed that LinkedIn seemed to have access to hundreds of my old email contacts.I never knowingly gave permission to access my Gmail or Outlook. The tricky buttons on the mobile app are ripe (by color, placement, and size) for accidental taps that grant LinkedIn access to your contacts when you’re trying to bypass what seem to be greeting screens and instructions.

For LinkedIn Android app users, the mobile device itself may have Gmail permissions turned on by way of necessity to use certain apps. If the LinkedIn app requires Gmail permissions, it gets them. The only obvious solution would be to uninstall the app from any Gmail-authorized device. Stick to the mobile browser and log out each time.

When I checked my imported contacts, I was shocked to find over 700, many of them from my college email, which I haven’t used in close to a decade. How to prevent this:

iPhone: After you’ve obliterated your imported contacts via desktop, go to the LinkedIn app settings. Ensure that “Sync Contacts” and “Download Connections” are off.

LinkedIn iphone app settings Sync Contacts off

Check “Phone Numbers” and remove yours if it’s there. If any of these settings were previously on, I recommend turning them off, logging out of the app, uninstalling it, and then reinstalling it.

Address book FAQ buried in the LinkedIn Help Center:

When I import my address book on my phone, what information does LinkedIn receive?

LinkedIn receives contact records from your phone. You decide who you’d like to connect with or invite. We won’t contact them without your permission or share their info with third parties. Note that if your mobile contacts list is synced to other services, e.g. Facebook or Gmail, that information will be imported to LinkedIn as well. If you’re using an Android device, you can learn more about Android permissions.

Linkedin logo professionals

Think About the Business

LinkedIn is a for-profit website that mines user data to enhance its recommendation engine, acquire more users, and map connections to create a global economic graph. CEO Jeff Weiner has been clear about this goal: “We want to digitally map the global economy, identifying the connections between people, jobs, skills, companies and professional knowledge – and spot in real time the trends pointing to economic opportunities.” -Weiner (Dataversity, 2013)

Be skeptical about “free” services.

Ask how companies use your data. Perhaps you find LinkedIn (and Facebook) valuable enough to overlook these privacy issues. Educate yourself, then decide.

If you’re looking for a job board for marketing and advertising, I recommend Talent Zoo. They don’t mine your data, you don’t have to deal with the noise and spam of LinkedIn, and the articles by quality contributors will make you smarter as opposed to the rockstar ninja clickbait on LinkedIn Pulse.

Original: 450 million active users on LinkedIn as of 1/31/17, Q4-16 reported.
*Updated: More than 562 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide as of 8/12/18, via

This post was updated 8/12/18. And I am confident that the core principle won’t change.