Home > privacy, social computing, social implications > Why LinkedIn is Creepy: Asymmetry of Visibility

Why LinkedIn is Creepy: Asymmetry of Visibility

A friend recently shared this story: he was having trouble finding contact information for an old friend, and it occurred to him that his ex-girlfriend would be in touch. So he looked at his ex’s LinkedIn page to search through her list of contacts.  It turns out, though, that his ex has a premium LinkedIn account, which gives you a list of everyone who has looked at your profile.  She contacted him, “I see you were looking me up….”  This was NOT what he wanted. I suppose if Shakespeare were writing today, this is would be prime material for a modern Comedy of Errors.

What is uncomfortable about this situation is the asymmetry of visibility and awareness. She has a premium account, and can see more. He does not, and was erstwhile unaware that anyone had the ability to track profile views. It’s like a hidden surveillance camera. Principles of social translucence suggest that mutual visibility facilitates successful cooperative behavior. One-way mirrors are creepy.

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  1. February 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    OKCupid, the online dating site, offers a slightly different take on this idea. If you have a free account, you can choose to either browse normally (you know who views your profile, others know when you view theirs) or browse anonymously (you don’t know who views your profile and others don’t know when you view theirs).

    However, if you buy a premium account, you can view others’ profiles anonymously, but you know who views yours.

  2. Katherine Mancuso
    February 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    LinkedIn shows a random 5 people who have looked at your profile in the most recent time to you even if you don’t have a premium account, so theoretically this has some limited 2 way effect in that if you are connected to someone within a couple degrees of separation, they COULD see that you looked at their profile. I find this not really a problem on LinkedIn, personally, since for me my LinkedIn is strictly a more elaborate evolution of my resume with some portfolio mixed in, but I can also see why as a social affordance it doesn’t make sense for a work network.

    OKCupid actually has a similar translucence feature but the difference is that you can see whoever sees your profile, if they select the setting to allow you to see that they’re browsing – and if they don’t select the setting, they can’t see who is looking at them. I think that OKC’s A-list feature may allow one way translucence. Socially speaking, most people tend to select the setting. Personally, I think this is a better feature for a dating network than a professional network since it simulates what happens when flirting in person, so it makes sense to build in. By the way, OK Cupid could be a really okay network to show students in the online communities class because in many ways it’s a lot more than a dating site . . .

    • February 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Kathy, I never noticed that feature before–interesting. Evidently my profile was ‘anonymous’ and I had to agree to make it not anonymous to see my random five people. There was one of the five who made me think, “why in the world is this person I haven’t seen in years looking me up?” So yeah, creepy!

  3. ECC
    February 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    And yet what I think is fascinating w/this dynamic is that all this visibility feature on LinkedIn is actually doing is revealing existing ‘stalking’ behavior. I wonder why it is more creepy to be informed that people are looking you up, than having them do so without your knowledge.. (though I agree that it is).

    Our expectations of being able to conduct anonymous surveillance on each other online have become normed over the years, which strikes me as as somewhat odd, the more I think about it.

    • February 7, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      Eric, that’s a really interesting point. My first thought at an answer: I think maybe meta-visibility has always been creepy. Imagine this back in early 20th century England/Downton Abbey: “I inquired about Mr. Bates’ whereabouts” isn’t so bad, but “I saw O’Brien inquiring about Mr. Bates’ whereabouts” is creepy.

      What do you think?

  4. February 8, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I think a lot of it gets back to our core perceptions (which, of course, may or may not be accurate) about when our actions are public and when they are private. So I’m not sure if meta-visibility is inherently creepy, but whether we’re expecting it or not is the key factor.

    There are plenty of theories & models across the various social sciences which point out how we benefit, use or even need an awareness of an audience to appropriately shape our communications and our behavior — we can invoke Goffman-esque performativity here, but also theories of audience design and common ground formation from social and linguistic psychology. Many of these models also suggest there needs to some level of reciprocality in communication for the process to work effectively (striving for a state of “I know that you know that I know that you know..”). So maybe that’s where social translucence comes back into play.

    My personal feeling is that we’re nearly always engaging with an imagined audience online (even if it is a reflective audience consisting only of ourselves); the creepy factor might arise when we’re confronted with evidence that there is a breakdown between that imagined audience and the real one.

    Sorry to go off at length, a pet topic of mine.. On the tail end of our current grant, we’re building design probes to evaluate how greater viewer/audience awareness might effect creative producers’ perception and processes of content they share online.

  5. MaggieL
    October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    @Kathy: See, tolja LinkedIn was important to you. 🙂

  6. Esther Boff
    February 12, 2013 at 9:17 am

    First point, if you don’t like people knowing you’ve viewed their profile you can change this in Settings> Select what others see when you view their profile. Secondly, it is wrong to assume that people viewing your profile are interested in you – they may only be interested in your connections!

    • February 12, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Agree on both points! A lot of folks don’t know about the setting. And only being interested in someone’s connections is exactly what happened to my friend. But his ex didn’t realize that…. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Lindsay Kardashian Evidently
    April 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I do not have a linkedin profile. I never have. Out of curiosity I browsed around. I looked up an old acquaintance, a cousin, a couple of coworkers, my awesome manager, the awful boss I could not stand 20 years ago, and a couple of friends. I also made the mistake of looking up my ex. Note: I opened up a browser window and checked to see if any of these people have linkedin accounts. I did not sign up for linkedin, not at all. I found it odd that for most of these people, *even though I was not signed in*, it connected them all together. So, when I looked up my ex (all I could see for any of these people were that yes, they had linkedin profiles), when I looked up my ex, it showed and still shows that “people who looked up your ex also looked up … and it shows my boss at my place of employment and an old acquaintance from the college I went to and my cousin with the same last name. Also the name of this person I had an almost-crush on, I looked at to see if he had a “real” job and weren’t completely unemployable like my ex, which was one of the reasons he is now my ex. So now I am a crazy stalker and it is blatantly obvious who looked at their linkedin profiles, even though I don’t have and never have had a linked in profile.

    I might as well go ahead and make a secks tape and streak across the white house lawn in a bright lime green thong, on national television, and live stream it to my grandmothers and all my teachers and everyone in my church.

    LinkedIn — the fastest way to the bottom. Even worse than Facebook.

  8. Laffin
    May 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Hehe. So your complaining that whilst you were peeping in the window to look at you ex, the window had a buzzer that let her know that someone was looking at her, and it turned out to be her ex…. The horror!

    Personally I think linkedin works very well, it has ways around all the problems you mentioned. The real problem is the stalker ex who wants his ex to know that he´s looking at her.

    • May 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      Well, my friend wasn’t peeping at his ex… he was looking for someone he knew would be a contact of hers.
      But I do see your point. 🙂

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