Recently, I’ve had several conversations with friends and professional contacts about privacy on LinkedIn. Each time, I’ve heard someone make a comment like this:
LinkedIn shows everyone that I looked at their profile, and I don’t like that.
This is not a silly or trivial comment.
Like it or not, LinkedIn is becoming increasingly important to our professional lives. Here at FullContact, we’ve noticed a significant portion of the folks we talk to are resorting to LinkedIn for communication and research. Some of today’s recruiters work almost exclusively in LinkedIn.
In this post, I’ll engage in a little mythbusting and answer the question of whether you can shut off that feature in LinkedIn, as well as discuss a few related privacy issues.
**Please note, nothing in this post is meant to encourage or enable someone to anonymously browse others’ profiles without a legitimate professional reason, like network research, recruiting, or sales. The point rather is to inform you about your privacy settings, so you can decide what is best for your use case.
Social Network Privacy Settings Are Like Casino Floorplans
On the list of the world’s most opaque subjects, social network privacy ranks up there with NFL injury reports and North Korean leadership intentions. In short, not very transparent…and downright confusing.
However, there’s a good reason why no one understands privacy on social networks: because it’s not in the network’s interest to make it easy. Sharing and visibility help social networks drive engagement and advertising revenue. If privacy was a good thing for them, then your privacy settings would be front and center. As with most things in life, it all boils down to incentives.
Think of social network privacy like casino floorplans. The object of the game is to prevent you from leaving and keep you as engaged as possible, so you’ll spend more money and come back wanting more. The exit should be hard to find, but the ATM should be obvious. Nowhere will you find a clock.
Social networks are doing the same thing. They’re helping you get that dopamine hit that comes with browsing around and seeing what others are up to, as well as when you see someone liked your post or checked out your profile. Privacy issues kill the buzz, so they’re hidden away.
How to Set Your LinkedIn Account So People Can’t See You’re Viewing Them
Few people know that LinkedIn has a setting allowing you to disable others’ ability to see when you view their profile. To find it, go to Account Settings in the top right.
Then, take the following path: Privacy & Settings > Profile.
Click Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile. You’ll see a popup window like this:
For testing purposes, I’ve set mine so I will be “totally anonymous.” In theory, this means no one will be able to see I viewed their profile. Also, note that there is a medium setting for when you want that person to know someone at your company checked out their profile, but not your name and title.
Let’s put it to the test.
After changing my settings, I checked out Kipp Chambers, our Marketing Engineer here at FullContact. Before doing so, I had Kipp change his settings to ensure that he could see who viewed his profile (more on this below).
Only a minute later, Kipp was able to see that an anonymous person had viewed his profile. My name and company was not included. I was effectively anonymous.
But the story isn’t over.
If You Go Anonymous, Can You Still See Who Is Looking at Your Profile?
The answer is…kind-of.
Take another look at the visibility preference screen we edited earlier. Note the last sentence (in small type, of course) above the Save changes button.
If you choose one of the two anonymous routes, you will not be able to see your Profile Stats – LinkedIn’s term for seeing who has viewed your profile. Even if the viewer operates in the open, your choice keeps this info from showing up.
There’s one caveat, though. For some reason, this feature still works in LinkedIn’s mobile app. To see it, take the following steps:
- Tap the blue “in” logo on the top left of the app’s home screen. You’ll see a few shortcuts, including Home, your profile, and others.
- Find and tap the + Add Shortcut option at the bottom of this list.
- Then select Who’s Viewed Your Profile on LinkedIn.
This enables you to research anonymously but still see who is viewing you – provided that they haven’t gone stealth also.
In Conclusion: Remember to Periodically Explore Your Privacy Settings
Think of your social network privacy settings like the attic or basement of your house. They’re both dark and confusing, but bad things tend to happen there if you don’t look around once in awhile.
When you do, take care to drill down as deep as possible, since important settings are intentionally buried deep in the interface. For example, I had no idea that I could still see who was viewing me on LinkedIn’s mobile app until a co-worker discovered it. Also, social networks tend to change their privacy features on a regular basis, so stay abreast of how you look to others.
As I’ve argued before in our Hater’s Guide to Social Media, social networking is the way of the future and inescapable for most professionals. If you’re going to create an account, you better know the rules of the road.