LinkedIn, the professional network with about 238 million members will soon welcome teens, 14 and up. Until now, the service was only open to people 18 and older. The company is launching what it’s calling University Pages. About 200 universities have already signed-up, according to a LinkedIn blog post, including New York University, University of California San Diego, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, University of Michigan, Villanova,Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Illinois.
Why it makes sense
If you think about it, teens are engaged in careers too — the business of preparing for the rest of their lives. Many are college-bound and can benefit from the same type of networking as adult professionals. They need to learn about prospective schools not just from the college admissions offices but from alumni, current students at the school and other high-school students struggling with some of their same issues. And, like the rest of us, they need to do everything they can to enhance and promote their professional skills which, for high school students, involves putting together their own resume of sorts, including documenting not only their academic prowess but their life achievements.
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Not just for college-bound
Although LinkedIn is emphasizing its college and university partnerships, the service is open to all teens, including those who plan to pursue other options including the workforce and the military. Networking isn’t just for college-bound or college educated folks. There are plenty of other opportunities for young people outside of formal education.
Privacy and safety
But adding teens to the mix also means that LinkedIn staff needed to think about some of the same issues that other social networks grapple with including how to protect teens privacy, how to protect them from being bothered or harassed by others and how to make sure the teens use the service safely and respectfully.
“For us it was learning more about how teens operate on social networks in understanding what others before us have encountered to insure a safe environment for teens on LinkedIn,: said Sara Harrington A privacy page — the company’s senior legal director for Intellectual property.
As a disclosure and to bring home this point, several months ago LinkedIn contacted ConnectSafely.org, the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director to get our advice on how to help assure that teens have a safe and positive experience. LinkedIn also made a financial contribution to ConnectSafely (other major supporters include Facebook, Google, Trend Micro and Yahoo). Based on the advice from us, other experts and their own staff, LinkedIn is launching the service with special privacy protection for teens as well as a Safety Center that now includes a Family Center with advice for teens, parents, educators and law enforcement.
Privacy settings for teens are different than for adults:
- Teens’ birth year will be hidden. After they turn 18, they will be given the option to display that information.
- Teens’ profiles will automatically be prevented from appearing in public search engines such as Google and Bing.
- Teens’ Profile photo will only be visible only to their “1st-degree” connections (people they connect with directly).
- Teens’ professional headline won’t be shown, to protect their privacy in search results.
- Teens’ profile will default to first name, last name initial, and general region, instead of their full name and city for all languages using Latin script — e.g., English, French, Dutch, etc.)
- Teens will not receive promotional or informational “InMail messages” from LinkedIn’s marketing and hiring partners.
- Teens; data will not be shared with 3rd-party applications, even if they :choose to install 3rd-party applications.
- Teens won’t see ads from LinkedIn when looking at other websites.
- LinkedIn says that it won’t collect information about teens when they are looking at other websites that partner with LinkedIn.
As with all privacy policies, the devil is in the details and we’ll see how well the company adheres to its promises. Also, regardless of what the company tries to do, there is always the risk that people will misuse its service either by harming others or by harming or embarrassing themselves. Parents are advised to talk with their kids about how they plan to use LinkedIn and check-in with kids on a regular basis.
Different set of norms
And, in case it isn’t already obvious, teens on LinkedIn need to remember that this is a professional network, which means it has a different set of norms and expectations than social networks. Based on what I see from my own activity on LinkedIn, it appears that most adults understand that. My guess is that the vast majority of teens on LinkedIn will too.