Website Review: LinkedIn


Firstly, I will attempt to introduce you to two typical working members whose identities are, for reasons that will not become clear, subject to doubt. It seems you need a premium account, and we lowly non-premium rabble are not authorized to know their names so they show up on our screens only as “LinkedInMember”. Indicative perhaps of the status relationship in the broader scheme of things. Except, the two gentlemen are in our search results. A name was searched for, profiles were returned presumably of people with matching names, and then their names are withheld. It as if by typing an individual’s name into the search box you are taking a measurement of the search engine’s quantum state causing the wave function of their hitherto anonymous super-positioned identity to collapse into a positively identified state of being.

See for yourself. In the screenshot below we see two members of LinkedIn whose identity is supposed to be hidden from us. Can you guess what their real names are?

But is it really them? Somehow, we still cannot be sure, and the results returned by the in-house search engine has reduced these two user’s identities to a shimmering thing, fading in and out of objective reality like a pair of well-fed Schrödinger Cats.

We can message them (for a fee naturally), which presents a splendid opportunity for social engineering. “hi John, remember me? Your name isn’t in my network yet but I recognize your face. Connecting with you, let’s hook up and share passwords“. “But ah”, you might think in the smug little manner of a social networker, “the is wrong. You can only do this if you already know the name”. This is true, to an extent. After all we do not know exactly which database fields are in the search space. Maybe these men once worked with a man called John and that’s why they show up. You might even argue that the search is specifically set for people, so you would naturally expect only people with the name you give to show up. But then why do you also find LinkedIn Lady Members who respond to the name John and pop-up in your search results when called? But that’s not the point.

The point is that information that was intended to be masked is leaking out. Judicious use of search terms and some little knowledge of search algorithms, tiered application architectures, and how database schema work, and it’s not all that difficult to bypass the beautiful plumage of this “hidden identity” restriction. And all you have to do is type EULA compliant searches into it’s own search engine. Or do a little research. Are names hidden, or are they not? Or is the search algorithm simply crap? It’s perplexing.

Still, we’ve met a couple of typical albeit ephemeral users now, we’ve learned that they can do stuff, and that they may or not have once met a man named John. LinkedIn will tell us lots more about them, but for that we have to pay. Or we can find it out for free ourselves, but it will take just a little bit longer. Busy people know, however, that time is money. So let’s turn our attention to one of the LinkedIn community leaders and hear what he has to say.

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