One of the feature that is frequently asked about on LinkedIn is how the "People You May Know" feature on LinkedIn works. There is a fear that LinkedIn is spying on its members, yet this is misunderstanding what can indeed be a powerful connection tool.
LinkedIn is perhaps the most powerful business based social network available today, having recently exceeded 100 million members. It is an important network for the worldwide professional and executive community. Yet monitoring the Answers section of the site it is possible to see the question:
Why is LinkedIn is reading my contact list on my PC?
What people forget is that in leveraging the power of LinkedIn it is necessary to know people and as soon as you connect to people then LinkedIn can infer possible/probable links to other people in shared networks. So a panel, such as the following one, will appear somewhere on your LinkedIn page, yet the appearance of this panel does not necessarily mean that LinkedIn is reading your contacts list.
When you join LinkedIn the application tries to assist you to build your network by asking if you wish to import people from your contacts list, as shown in the panel below. All you have to do is export your contacts from Outlook (or any other contact management software) into a CSV file and load that file in order to import all of your existing contacts.
As a new user after importing your contacts LinkedIn will provide the option to invite all of your contacts, which is not necessarily an advisable thing to do as the network will then send out uncontrolled invitations to everyone you know, in reality you should control who you invite because LinkedIn has limits of the total number of people you are allowed to invite.
It can sometimes be worth importing your email contacts even if you do not intend to send invitations at this stage as this will contribute to the “People You May Know” panel and can certainly be helpful once a user becomes more seasoned with LinkedIn’s capabilities.
LinkedIn also has an Outlook Add-On which many members feel adds benefit to their contact management.
Once this tool is downloaded into your Outlook then your contacts are automatically linked into the application, whether or not you make a person a LinkedIn contact then LinkedIn will know that you know that person and may offer then as a possible connection on your personal “People You May Know” list.
In addition to this you must remember that as soon as you are connected to anyone on LinkedIn, and remember the point about being here is indeed to build connections, then the system will start to see where there are people that you may know. Suppose you are connected to Mary, Bryan, Rob, Michelle, and Ramon on LinkedIn and that they all have Joseph as a first level connection then it is likely that you also know Joseph, one thing is certain he is already a powerful second level connection to you. Even if you have given no access to allow LinkedIn to read your contact list beforehand this connection can be inferred, although it does not mean you have to link with Joseph, that is a personal choice for you to make.
Do not worry about big-brother watching you, LinkedIn here is simply intending to assist you with your own personal networking. The information is not being passed on to anyone else, it is simply provided to make life easier for you.
The author of this article, Peter Giblett, can be found on LinkedIn by using the link placed here, he also writes a regular “Perspectives and Strategy” column at CIO Perspectives and continues to write about IT Strategy on Toolbox.com.