Although big mergers in the world of technology are not uncommon, ones the size of Microsoft's LinkedIn purchase, announced in June, only come along once in a blue moon. At a purchase price just north of $26 billion, there aren't many technology deals that can even come close to the magnitude of such a buyout.
That will of course have huge ramifications for staff, who may find themselves redundant thanks to their opposite number at the other company; shareholders, who will see their stock in either company jostle around while things settle down; and the users of LinkedIn themselves, who are now facing an uncertain future. When Microsoft purchased LinkedIn, it didn't just buy up its technology, its servers and its user base, it bought the data that those users have been adding to LinkedIn for years.
This data aspect raises a lot of questions. How will that data be handled after the merger? Will Microsoft leverage it to sell users on products, or sell it on to third parties? What will happen to information we put into LinkedIn in the future?
This all seems rather sinister sounding, because despite sharing online being something we all take part in far more often today than we would have done a decade or two ago, the concept of handing over vast, unknown swathes of data on ourselves to a corporate entity can still give us the willies.
But it doesn't necessarily have to.
In a chat with TechCrunch, Dennis Dayman, the chief privacy officer at Return Path, claims that this is just Microsoft's way of working to better understand its user base. It wants to know why and how people use the tools it provides for them. It knows about user experience in software like Office 365, but not why we do the things we do. LinkedIn gives it the chance to change that.
This may be something that Microsoft addresses publicly and makes it something that's useful for all users. When people collaborate on projects in Office 365, perhaps Microsoft will leverage their LinkedIn accounts to let you in on where they work, or how long they've been doing their job.
Or it could keep it internal and use LinkedIn's vast silos of data to better market its products to people.
Yet another angle could see Microsoft make forays into the data analytics game, which should be worrying for anyone looking to hold their own in that competitive space.
Much of what happens with the LinkedIn data may depend on where users are based of course. Data privacy laws are constantly being tweaked and rewritten, but tend to be stronger in the EU than the US. It will be interesting to see what level of access to user information Microsoft is granted after the merger is complete, especially when it comes to international territories.
Regardless of what happens though, there is no doubt that users will hope that transparency is the name of the game. Whatever Microsoft does with user data is unlikely to be as worrying as some of the ideas the community comes up with in their minds. Heading them off at the pass may be the best way to avoid an early backlash.