LinkedIn ran undisclosed experiments on 20 million users to study success


A new study analyzing data from more than 20 million LinkedIn users over five years shows that our acquaintances can be more helpful than close friends when finding a new job.

The researchers behind the study say the results will improve professional mobility on the platform, but since users were unaware that their data was being examined, some may find the lack of transparency worrisome.

Released this month in Sciencethe study was conducted by researchers from LinkedIn, Harvard Business School and MIT between 2015 and 2019. The researchers conducted “several large-scale randomized experiments” using the platform’s “People You May Know” algorithm, which suggests new connections to users.

In a practice known as A/B testing, the experiments involved giving specific users an algorithm that offered different (like close or not-so-close) contact recommendations, and then analyzing the new jobs resulting from those two Billions of new connections emerged.

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The Strength of Weak Bonds

The researchers tested a social science theory known as the “strength of weak ties,” which Sinan Aral, an award-winning management and data science professor at MIT and lead author of the study, said is “one of the most influential social science theories of the last century.”

In this theory by Stanford professor Mark Granovetter, there are weak ties like friends of friends and strong ties like immediate colleagues. His research posits that it’s those weak ties that can lead you to better job opportunities that you can’t find in your strong attachment network.

Strong bonds can be “restricted” to “small, well-defined groups,” like you probably know your close friends’ close friends.

The LinkedIn study “surprisingly” confirmed this theory, according to Aral.

“Acquaintances are more valuable sources of employment opportunities,” Aral said. “We also found that not the weakest ties, but moderately weak ties are the best.”

The strength of these weak ties varied by industry.

“The findings help us understand how platform algorithms impact employment opportunities and outcomes, and help LinkedIn shape its platform to more effectively support its members with job search and social and economic mobility,” said Aral.

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A question of ethics

Privacy advocates told the New York Times on Sunday that some of LinkedIn’s 20 million users may not be happy that their data was used without consent. This resistance is part of a long-standing pattern of people’s data being tracked and used by tech companies without their knowledge.

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LinkedIn told the newspaper that it was “consistent in its user agreement, privacy policy and member preferences” with The New York Times.

LinkedIn did not respond to an email sent by USA TODAY on Sunday.

The paper reports that LinkedIn’s privacy policy states that the company reserves the right to use its users’ personal information.

This access may be used “to conduct research and development on our Services, to provide you and others with a better, more intuitive, and personalized experience, to drive membership growth and engagement with our Services, and to help connect professionals with each other and with the economy.” to connect opportunity.”

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It can also be used for trend research.

The company also said it used “non-invasive” techniques to research the study.

Aral told USA TODAY that the researchers “did not receive any private or personally identifiable information during the study and only provided aggregated data for replication purposes to ensure further privacy protections.”

“The study was reviewed and approved by MIT’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research, and this type of algorithm experimentation is standard across the industry, in addition to platform support,” Aral said.

LinkedIn is far from the first tech company to analyze its members’ data without their knowledge.

In 2014, Facebook and researchers from the University of California and Cornell University angered people when they released findings from a study that quietly manipulated people’s newsfeeds for a week in 2012.

The company said it wanted to see how positive content compared to negative content affects people’s emotions and Facebook usage.

But privacy advocates immediately dismissed the study’s methods. One professor called the study “psychological manipulation.” Finally, even the Facebook scientists who worked on the study apologized for “any anxiety this caused.”

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