As employees of an institute of higher education, we pride ourselves on not only actively supporting research and discovery, as scholars in the field and in the making, but also as lifelong learners seeking education beyond the campus. One of many companies to provide services to support lifelong learning was Lynda.com. Founded in 1995, Lynda.com provided online support, courses, and documentaries on a range of subjects and technologies. With external investments, some acquisitions of smaller companies, and buy-in from educational institutions like LMU, it’s no wonder that some larger entity was interested in broadening its scope.
Enter LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with more than 610 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, which acquired Lynda.com in 2015. There was some speculation about what they intended to do so in 2016, when newly branded LinkedIn Learning was announced, the world waited with bated breath. Fast forward to 2019 when LinkedIn Learning announced a new change to better streamline the experience for its users: combining user LinkedIn accounts with the new Learning platform. For some, this meant not having to remember logins and getting personalized LinkedIn recommendations using data from both services.
For libraries and memory institutions, specifically public libraries, this change marked the beginning of a fraught relationship about data, privacy, and how private companies operate in public spaces.
Libraries use many companies to provide users with information services. All of those databases you use must authenticate your account so that the company can provide access to the service. In public libraries, this usually means using your library card number or a pin to prove you are a library user. This process is what Lynda.com used before the merger. However, with LinkedIn Learning, public library users must authenticate using a LinkedIn profile which also requires agreement to LinkedIn’s privacy and user agreement policies. These policies allow for profiles to be searchable online with numerous sites harvesting and using user data in ways we don’t fully comprehend yet. In addition to this, users who don’t use LinkedIn Learning but have a LinkedIn account automatically give their learning data to LinkedIn forever per their policy.
So, what’s next? Librarians in conversation with LinkedIn revealed that the company stated “that the ‘library market’ wasn’t a significant enough revenue stream to warrant creation of a custom solution,” specifically one that uses library authentication methods instead of a social media requirement. In my own personal email exchanges with LinkedIn’s Vice President of Client Solutions Farhan Syed, the other option presented to libraries include using email authentication, which has its own barriers due to the digital divide and still provides LinkedIn with user data beyond library policy. Library systems are seeking alternative solutions to LinkedIn Learning such as Gale Courses, Treehouse, and Skillsoft.
For academic users like LMU students, faculty, and staff, authentication happens at the university level as soon as a user employs their MyLMU login. We are also given the option to opt out of linking our accounts, keeping data on specific platforms and following terms of their individual policies.
Social justice extends to all issues of equity, even those that occur online. Academic or public, libraries will continue fight for user privacy and inform the public about their data practices. Hopefully, companies like LinkedIn and Microsoft will see the value of these efforts and create innovative solutions to address their policies and intent to keep our data hostage.