LinkedIn Now Tracks You Across The Web [And Flaunts It]

LinkedIn LogoWe know companies track us across the web, but most companies don’t make the tracking obvious.

LinkedIn, in quite a departure, is showing right on the homepage the company websites you have visited.

The video below is a short screen capture showing how Eloqua and Demandbase were added to the recently viewed block on my homepage after visiting their websites, not just LinkedIn company pages.

Although tracking isn’t unusual, most companies don’t make tracking nearly this obvious and it raises a number of questions for LinkedIn users and for B2B marketers:

  • How will LinkedIn’s audience react when tracking is this visible? Will LinkedIn have a privacy backlash similar to what Facebook has faced at times in the past?
  • Will LinkedIn allow this information to be used by advertisers? For instance, will you be able to target companies that have visited your site (retargeting) or even target companies, including competitors, as an interest in the advertising platform?
  • Will LinkedIn use this information to refine the companies to follow suggestions, boosting company following and increasing the value of corporate social media activity on LinkedIn?
  • What is LinkedIn tracking, and what are they not tracking? This isn’t showing every website. Both sites that loaded include the company follow button. But is LinkedIn tracking you, just not linking it to a specific company page in order to display it, regardless?

Update: LinkedIn disabled this, visits to sites with the LinkedIn Follow button and visits to company pages no longer appear on the Recently Visited homepage widget.

Your Turn

How do you feel about what LinkedIn is doing and how do you believe the LinkedIn audience will react? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Note: the original video was approximately 3 minutes uncut. The video was edited for length and clarity. Company pages were not visited prior to or doing the video.

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  • http://markvang.com/ Mark Vang

    This is why I usually use two or three browsers during the course of my daily activities. I log into networks (like LinkedIn) in one browser, then handle most browsing, searches, etc. in a different browser. I also use a program called BleachBit to purge all of my cookies at midday and evening, so that I don’t have a huge trail of activity that any one network can sort through and track. Don’t forget that there are privacy settings in browsers that can limit the amount of info that networks can grab from your online activities.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Mark, there is a lot you can do to limit it, but frankly, most people don’t make the efforts you do. I used to separate browsers, but then I found I was always clicking from my social browser out to content. Like most other people know, I let the data collection happen, although I’m probably more aware of it than most.

      The proposed new standard from Mozilla will, in some ways, actually make this worse. Companies like LinkedIn that you visit directly will be able to track you anywhere, but those you don’t visit will be cut out completely. I’m concerned this could create a false sense of security, making some believe they are no longer being tracked when, in reality, they still are.

    • Jay

      Mark/Eric, I’ve actually found in the last few weeks that using two browsers no longer works. My Chrome is logged into LinkedIn, whilst Mozilla is not, yet when I view people’s profiles through Mozilla, it shows that I have viewed these people’s profiles in my LinkedIn account (and, in turn, they see that I have viewed their account).

      Anyone else found this? Any way to avoid this?

      • Ferd

        I’ve had the same issue,
        visiting profiles on IE without being logged in,
        and discovering on my profile that it was registered…

        • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

          Ferd, at some point you other logged in or clicked a link that allowed LinkedIn to identify your browser. I’ve tested this repeatedly with a clean browser and have not been tracked across browsers. However, just logging out isn’t enough. If you are concerned, I definitely recommend launching an incognito or private browser window.

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  • http://www.dragonsearchmarketing.com/author/evan/ Evan Auerbach

    Eric, This is very interesting. I am experimenting with this, however I am not seeing it happen.What is the criteria for off-site company pages that will show up?

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Evan, I believe this only happens on pages that have the company follow button, which isn’t that widely used (yet). I’ve been watching this widget space the last couple days pretty closely and have seen a couple more companies show up. In each case, I’ve been able to go back through my history and find a page I visited that included the company follow button.

  • Meta Brown

    Eric,

    I’m not convinced that you’ve demonstrated LinkedIn tracking off-site activity here.

    Are you certain that you have not recently viewed (not followed, just viewed) the Demandbase company page on LinkedIn? You mention tags – please explain what tags you feel are involved.

    The LinkedIn privacy policy describes information that is collected. (http://www.linkedin.com/legal/privacy-policy#info-collected) They do collect information about third party site visits, when you sign in with your LinkedIn account, which does not seem to be an option on the Demandbase site.

    • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

      Hi, thanks for the question. Unfortunately, the video didn’t make it clear enough.

      First, no, I didn’t visit those pages on LinkedIn.

      Second, and more importantly, the other profiles listed when I started were viewed just moments earlier.

      I believe the tag doing this is the LinkedIn company follow button. When a page has this button, there are three lines for LinkedIn reported by Ghostery (a cool little tool that shows third party tagging, pixels and calls). Pages with just the LinkedIn share button have two lines in Ghostery.

      I’ve been able to clear the recently viewed space (by quickly clicking through 10 profiles) and repeat it by visiting these pages. Here are a couple more companies I’ve seen show up in my recently visited since.

      LeadFormix (triggered on homepage)
      Marketo (triggered on blog homepage)

      You can see the LinkedIn follow button on both pages, as well as on Eloqua’s blog and Demandbase’s page (although it’s hidden initially).

      And yes, it is definitely a gray area in the privacy policy today…

      Thanks for the comment and the prompt to explain it a bit more. :-)

      • Meta Brown

        Yes, I can see some of this behavior on my own account.

        This doesn’t look like we’re logging in to those sites via LinkedIn, as that process is pretty conspicuous. If that’s not the case, it may be that this is third party advertising on the LinkedIn site. In other words, it might not be that LinkedIn is tracking, but rather the other site, or an ad network, is tracking visitors, and then serving ads through LinkedIn. That’s pretty common behavior, except that it is usually clear that the ad is an ad, and here we have something that does not look like an ad.

        • Meta Brown

          PS. Where is that LI button on the Demandbase site? I still can’t see it on the page, but it is there in the code.

      • Meta Brown

        I’m so glad you shared this – I’ve been pondering how it worked all afternoon.

        The code for the LI button is javascript from the LI server. So, it works like a beacon – when we load any page that includes that button, we’re loading a script from LI. That means they can use their own cookies to track us, as ad networks do.

        • http://b2bdigital.net/ Eric Wittlake

          Exactly. It’s worth adding: most web beacons these days are actually scripts. Scripts can capture significantly more information, and the ad networks and data companies get as much as they can.

          The LinkedIn share button is also a call to LinkedIn and allows LinkedIn to track users across sites. (Note I don’t know if they do). Twitter and Facebook also track across sites this way. Our web usage is someone else’s revenue opportunity…

  • susan borst

    Hi Eric. I don’t have the “You Recently Visited” tab on my page at all. How long have you had it – for people and/or company views? What type of LI account do you have? And how is it possible that we have not connected on LI???!! Sent invite. Thanks.

  • Lara.

    Interesting! I have to say you come to expect it. Personally I use LinkedIn whilst at work and the mobile app when at home, so it doesn’t really worry me as everything I am searching will be work related, and therefore may be of some use. For example if I am researching a potential client it would be useful for their company to come up as it would prompt me to follow them. Also from a marketing point of view it would be useful if our company came up on people who had visited our websites profile.
    Although I may think differently if I used LinkedIn on my personal computer.

  • Jonathan

    I am very curios how this works – I believed it to be the follow button, too – but just now I realized how linkedin got it wrong: I use a translation tool called “leo”, back to linkedin it shows LEO – a completely independent organisation – in my last visited.. can’t be the tags then but maybe rather an url guess (first is leo.org the latter leobusiness.org ).

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  • Hermes Justice

    I use an effective encryption app that tells me what’s tracking and enables blocking of the trackers. (Thanks Canada, some insight from you)