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LinkedIn Privacy: What You Need to Know

Since LinkedIn doesn't require you to share the same types of personal information as you do on Facebook, the service's privacy settings appear to be much more straightforward than its less business-oriented competitor. But if you leave the default settings in place, you might be surprised to know what information you make public on LinkedIn.

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In fact, I've received several e-mails from readers who said they were solicited for products or irrelevant jobs on the service. In each case, they had no idea how the person found them (and didn't appreciate the spam for that matter).

How private you decide to make your LinkedIn information will affect the inquiries you receive for job opportunities as well as, in some cases, the amount of information you're able to find about others. To access the privacy settings, simply log into LinkedIn and click on the Account & Settings tab in the upper right hand corner of your homepage.

Here's a walkthrough of what I'd pay most attention to as you alter your settings. It's important to know that some of them don't appear under the "Privacy Settings" area, but nonetheless require your attention.

Your Public Profile

While the LinkedIn Account & Settings page has a special section marked for privacy, other categories affect the amount of information other people on LinkedIn see when they visit your page or search for your name.

Under "Profile Settings," you should pay particular attention to the information you make available on your Public Profile. This information may be visible to people who aren't one of your main contacts - known on LinkedIn as "connections." In other words, it's information you should feel comfortable for anyone to see.

After clicking on the Public Profile option, you will be taken to a field that allows you to check on (and off) certain aspects of your public LinkedIn profile. The default will make most of your LinkedIn profile information available to everyone, including your picture, work summary, education and past jobs.

Again, the level of information you reveal here might depend on your industry. If you don't want competitors looking at certain information, you should check it off. If you're hoping to find a job on LinkedIn, you should make as much of it available as possible.

Back on the main account & settings page, under profile settings, you can also adjust who sees your LinkedIn status message (which, remarkably, LinkedIn hasn't integrated with Twitter) or your member feed. Your member feed displays all the actions you take on LinkedIn, such as updating your resume or changing a link within your profile. For these, you can click to make it available to your connections, network or everyone.

And, of course, save your changes.

Personal Information

As it concerns privacy, there is one feature under the personal information section to consider: "name & location." Your connections will always see your first and last name, but if you wanted to set it so other people on LinkedIn can't see your full name (just your first name and the initial of your last name), you can do so here.

The All-Important Privacy Section

Now that we've got those other areas out of the way, we've arrived at the actual Privacy Settings. Unlike most social networks that solely rely on advertisements for their revenue streams, LinkedIn sells premium services to individuals and organizations looking to utilize the vast database of LinkedIn user data.

In general, LinkedIn does a good job of keeping your information anonymous as it relates to market research. That said, it's important to remember LinkedIn is running a business, and the power of its business relies on access to your data.

Research Surveys: LinkedIn allows companies to ask questions of the LinkedIn user base. While the information for such a survey is completely private, you have the option to turn it off (it's a basic "yes" or "no" switch). Since I've never touched this setting before, and it was clicked to "yes," I assume that's the default for you as well.

Connections Browse: By clicking "yes," all your connections can view your list of connections. Unless you are worried about competitors sniping contacts from your LinkedIn list, I'd recommend you leave this setting on. There is nothing more anti-social on a social network than not revealing who you are connected to on the service.

Profile Views: LinkedIn likes to inform users that people in their industry have viewed their LinkedIn profile (this information appears in a widget down the right column of your home page).

For this, there are three options. LinkedIn's default setting allows other users to know someone visited their profile page, but only by industry and general title -- not your actual name. You can set it so they know you specifically visited, but I'd avoid that option if you value anonymous Web-browsing.

You can also just turn it off entirely, so no information is broadcasted to other LinkedIn users when your visit their profile. That's what I've chosen.

Profile Photos: Pretty straightforward. You can decide to see the photos of your connections, your network, or everyone on LinkedIn. I see no downside to the latter option if you like a more humanized experience on the Web.

Profile & Status Updates: People use LinkedIn not only to track colleagues, but to see the collective activity of businesses in the company profiles section (We did an overview of LinkedIn Company Profiles). When you update your resume - if you leave a job or take a new job - that information gets fed into company profiles and also LinkedIn's Movers & Shakers list.

I allow my actions to be published because I like reading the company profiles, and if everyone checked "no," the service would be pretty useless.

You must also decide whether or not to include your status update and make it available to your connections. Again, I don't think statuses will become a big part of LinkedIn until they integrate with Twitter.

Service Provider Directory: The service provider directory in LinkedIn allows, well, people who provide services to list recommendations they've received from fellow connections or customers who also use LinkedIn. I have this clicked on "Yes" and it's never been a problem for me, but that could center around my line of work.

Partner Sites: You'd be wise to keep an eye on this one. For now, it's harmless. LinkedIn has partnered with the New York Times Co. to cull "non-personally identifiable information" from your LinkedIn profile. With this information, they will serve you up a customized list of NYTimes.com headlines.

The Times will also use this information to improve advertising on its own site. I have this clicked on "yes" since I love the New York Times and don't mind helping the cause, but as they add more partner sites that do different things, you should check in on this setting every now and again.

Authorized Application: LinkedIn added an application directory this year to help customize your profile. It's a small list of business oriented tools (I reviewed them in two segments; here's part one and a part two).

If you're unsure what applications you decided to install from the directory, this will help you know for sure.

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