Anna R., 24, quit her job after her boss sexually assaulted her at work. It was her first job out of college, and she didn't feel safe. She had to leave. "It quite frankly really freaked me out," she says. "I was forced to walk away from the job and never looked back. I felt screwed, for lack of better word."
That's when her boss started sending daily emails and voicemails that were a mix of flirty and threatening. She deleted the voicemail, ignored the emails, and tried to move on. She blocked him on Facebook and added security settings on Twitter so he wouldn't know what she was up to.
But here's what she couldn't stop: Every single day she received an alert that he had looked at her profile on LinkedIn.
"He would send me emails and check my LinkedIn account and ask me what I'm working on or doing," Anna says. She asked to only have her last initial included in this story to maintain her privacy.
"If I had an interview or made a connection that wasn't in my area, [my boss] would ask if I was leaving," she says. "Questions that were really freaking me out, really bad."
"It was never ending," Anna says. The harassment and stalking continued for a year.
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn doesn't offer an option to block individual users. Yes, you can limit views to only people in your network, or block some information from search engines. But for a job seeker, the whole point is to make yourself easily discoverable to as many potential employers as possible. The only way to protect yourself from a stalker on LinkedIn is to hinder your chances of finding a job — the entire reason you're there in the first place.
Anna wrote to LinkedIn asking if its offers a way to make special exceptions for people like her. They told her the only option was to block the offending user with a court order. "I think my mouth dropped open," Anna says. "I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'"
Anna started an online petition on Change.org asking LinkedIn to improve its privacy settings. Over 5,000 people have signed, including many other victims of LinkedIn stalkers, some of whom shared their own stories online.
"I can't use LinkedIn anymore because my ex could find out where I work and that would put my son and I in danger," wrote Leslie G.
"I am being stalked by a former relative, and I am able to take steps to prevent this on every site EXCEPT LinkedIn," wrote Scott Z. "It is only a matter of time until someone is injured or killed by a stalker who used information from LinkedIn to track the victim."
"I am continually stalked by someone who keeps creating fake accounts to view my location and details," writes Nastassja J. "Like others I have previously hidden all my details but am now currently looking for employment and therefore would like to make certain features of my account public."
LinkedIn presents a uniquely difficult situation. Women who have been harassed in the workplace will often look for new jobs; victims of stalkers, including survivors of domestic violence, may be looking to relocate and start a new life. The information on LinkedIn — your location (and if you move), where you work, and who you are connecting with — is both what might get you a job and exactly what a stalker is looking for. Explaining a special alias to a prospective employer presents its own problems. "I don't want prospective employers knowing I have a stalker," Ava K. says. "I'd never get a job."
Since users can see when someone looks at their profiles, stalkers use the site to harass and intimidate people by checking their pages frequently.
"I have a stalker going on 30 years now. He has been a seriously bad problem for me," Ava says. "Because of him I have been terrified of being on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. But now I'm looking for work and would love to use LinkedIn for real, not under an alias."
"The same person views my profile nearly every day, just to let me know that he can see my profile here. This guy is simply messing with me, and I don't know why," Don C. says. "I'm considering getting some kind of TRO [ed.: temporary restraining order], but probably don't have enough to obtain one, and I shouldn't have to go through all that."
Besides, Ava says, "If I got a restraining order on him it would be like handing him a loaded gun."
"We do not at this time offer a singular, broad-based block feature, although we would certainly evaluate the need for one if it becomes apparent that there's a need," LinkedIn told BuzzFeed. "LinkedIn offers a large number of granular settings that give our members total control over what's visible to their connections, their broader network, and others."
Anna has set up a phone meeting with LinkedIn for later this week, but she says trying to speak with them has been a "long and drawn out process." They have canceled numerous scheduled phone appointments already.
She isn't backing down, though. "I will be very candid with how I feel," Anna says. "I have very strong opinions about this whole thing. And I know that I'm not the only one, so I'm fighting for us all."