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LinkedIn: Hands off our user data

Several days after contact management site Plaxo claimed that LinkedIn didn't have a problem with its data portability application, the business social networking site has said that isn't the case.

This post was updated at 12:14 PM PT to include comment from Plaxo.

A representative from business networking site LinkedIn has denied a claim from contact management service Plaxo pertaining to last week's controversy over transporting data from one social network to another. According to LinkedIn, it doesn't approve of Plaxo scripts that import LinkedIn contact information.

Last week, Facebook blocked "power user" Robert Scoble's account when he attempted to test out a new feature from Plaxo that synchronized Facebook "friends list" e-mail addresses with Plaxo's contact management system. Scoble's account was eventually restored, but the end result was unclear--and many a Web pundit delved into the sticky, still-evolving debate over data portability and just how "open" the social Web should be. To some critics, Facebook once again came across as possessive and closed-off. To others, Plaxo looked like it was harvesting contact information.

One of Plaxo's major talking points in its mission to "open" the social Web was that data portability applications were already in place for other social networks, specifically LinkedIn. Executives said that LinkedIn didn't have a problem with it like Facebook did.

"LinkedIn was actually very happy about that feature," John McCrea, Plaxo's vice president of marketing, said last Thursday to CNET "That's live, and has been public for many months, and it's good for business."

But on Monday, a LinkedIn representative responded to a request for comment with an answer that was anything but happy. According to Kay Luo, LinkedIn's director of corporate communications, Plaxo's contact import application violates the site's terms of service--an assertion very similar to the one Facebook used to bolster its now-notorious Scoble ban.

"We did not work with Plaxo on their service," Luo said in an e-mail. "We have clear policies against scraping because it has always been LinkedIn's opinion that people need control over their own information. People who scrape our site violate our user agreement and often violate users' trust. We intend to protect against automated processes where the user may not know what is happening."

Plaxo's McCrea suggested in an e-mail to CNET that it might just be an error in communication.

"I think all that is going on here is some crossed wires over on LinkedIn's side," McCrea said. "We have multiple levels of communication with LinkedIn...LinkedIn and Plaxo both offer export features, and it is their export feature which enabled our LinkedIn Import feature. Before we launched it, there was executive level communication and approval via email."

McCrea added that he believes Plaxo and LinkedIn ultimately have similar aims with regard to openness and data portability. "There have been ongoing discussions between our platform leads on how to deepen (and) improve the data interoperability between the two services," he said. "This is a very popular and uncontroversial feature, which has been live for almost a year."