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Illustration: Richard A. Chance for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Brutal Fight to Mine Your Data and Sell It to Your Boss

Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. One of them, an upstart called HiQ, is going up against LinkedIn in a battle for your lucrative professional identity.

On May 23, an email landed in the sales inbox of a San Francisco startup called HiQ Labs, politely asking the company to go out of business. HiQ is a “people analytics” firm that creates software tools for corporate human resources departments. Its Skill Mapper graphically represents the credentials and abilities of a workforce; its Keeper service identifies when employees are at risk of leaving for another job. Both draw the overwhelming majority of their data from a single trove: the material that is posted—with varying degrees of timeliness, detail, accuracy, and self-awareness—by the 500 million people on the social networking site LinkedIn.

The email HiQ received was from LinkedIn Senior Litigation Counsel Abhishek Bajoria. “It has come to LinkedIn’s attention that hiQ Labs, Inc. has used and is using processes to improperly, and without authorization, access and copy data from LinkedIn’s website” in violation of LinkedIn’s user agreement, it read. Bajoria called on HiQ to cease and desist from visiting LinkedIn’s site and to destroy the data it had culled. The email set off a feud that led, a month later, to the two companies meeting in federal court, with HiQ suing LinkedIn and LinkedIn accusing HiQ of violating state and federal law.