2020 has brought a number of changes to LinkedIn. The interface is identical, so you would be forgiven for not noticing, particularly given the current pandemic affecting us. However, changes in the back end of LinkedIn have led to major disruptions in the processes of Internet Investigators and OSINT practitioners, like myself. One of my previous blog posts has already covered one of these changes, which affected searching for profiles by email address within the platform. However, this was not the only change that took place; changes have also taken place in how we can now search for profiles by location.
How location works in LinkedIn
To begin with, you first need to understand why searching by location is more difficult than you might initially think. LinkedIn already has an inbuilt Location filter within its search function, however, those of you that use it frequently will have noticed that the areas that you can search by are incredibly broad. You may have even noticed this within your own profile, where the area that you're listed as being from on your profile is somewhere that you would never usually list yourself as being from. You will most likely have chosen this when searching for your actual hometown resulted in no results. From the viewpoint of a standard user, this is unimportant. You don't need to know the exact town that somebody lives in, however, for an internet investigator this piece of information is crucial. The broad location areas preset within LinkedIn do not support searching a small geographical area.
LinkedIn draws this data from a number of sources. When creating your profile, you're asked for your "Postal Code" and "Locations within this area". If you check this on your profile page now under settings, you will likely be prompted to change the "Locations within this area" due to changes being made to the data. So searching by Postal Code would heavily rely on this data, which is one of the major reasons why I use a generic Postal Code, rather than a personal one. This way, when searching by postal code, you couldn't work out where I live. LinkedIn also relies on data from its parent company, Microsoft. If you've ever given Microsoft personal data, whether that's contact details, DOB, or an address, there's a good chance that it's linked to you in the back end of LinkedIn.
The reason that you're now likely to be prompted to update your "Locations within this area" is due to changes that have been made by the LinkedIn team in how they store your data. LinkedIn has made major changes to the Location Fields in its data. Gone is the old "postalCode" field, previously crucial to the work of many OSINT practitioners, and in its place is now "geo".
So, how did the old method using postalCode work?
The Previous Method
Until April 2020, URL manipulation would allow you to search for users by postcode/ zip code using the parameters postalCode, to set the Geolocation, and distance, to set the distance for a radius.
An example of this can be seen below:
The postal code could be as broad as the 2 letter area-code at the start of a postcode, so SW could be used to limit search results to the South West area of London. You could further limit your search results with the 3 or 4 letter District Code, such as SW1A to limit results to only the smaller area in Westminster. This was universal, and zip codes and postcodes from all over the world would work using this method. However, following the changes made to the location field and the introduction of geo, this method is now redundant.
The New Method
Searching using geo is not as easy as searching used to be with postalCode. So far, there's no obvious URL trick with geo as the focus to manipulate search results to a small area.
Henk van Ess recently shared the method that he is currently utilising to search by location. Using his example "Apples, Vaud, Switzerland.”, you are searching LinkedIn profiles for the area of Apples. Under the preset areas within LinkedIn, Apples falls within "Lausanne Area, Switzerland", a much broader area to cover. So, Henk's method does work in restricting the results.
I've tried this same method for the UK, getting different results depending on how I structure the search. Searching for my hometown in Lancashire on the preset location filter there are no results. However, searching using the method shared by Henk, there are still no results. So, a town with a population of 35,000 people does not exist on LinkedIn, no matter which method you use. However, a nearby town of "Chorley, Lancashire, United Kingdom" brings back 1 result. Meanwhile, searching for "Chorley, Lancashire, UK" brings back 17 results. Finally, searching for "Chorley, Lancashire" brings back 368 results. Therefore, how you structure your search massively affects your results and conducting a number of searches is likely to bring you the best results. Chorley, with a population of 41,000 people, not much different from my hometown, also doesn't appear in the preset filter options. Therefore, Henk's method does work in filtering results.
This method seems to be much better for other countries, that have larger geographical areas. If you want to search for individuals in New York, you're limited by the filter to "Greater New York City Area", which has 10,600,000 results. However, a search for "Brooklyn, New York" limits this to only 861,506 results. However, when searching for "Brooklyn, New York" John, you'll find your results are almost the same as when searching for John in "Greater New York City Area" using the standard filter, with roughly 37,000 results. Therefore, this method is likely going to involve a lot of tinkering to adjust the results, particularly as you start using it and grow accustomed to structuring your search. It's possible that entering the area in the exact way it's recorded in LinkedIn's data will get you the best results if you can work out that format. "Apples, Vaud, Switzerland.” suggests Town, Region/ County and finally Country, however, preliminary testing suggests that this is not true for every country. Perhaps a list will later be generated by some kind individual who can work out the full format for each nation.
One thing that is clear is that the results of your search appear to be based on a number of factors, rather than just the Postcode set by the owner of the profile. Results primarily include the user's headline, the location of a business listed within the work history and the location for any schools and colleges listed in the Education section of a profile. This means that you get people who used to live in an area and now have another location listed. Therefore, if you're just looking for anyone from an area, this is an improvement on the preset filter, which only searches by current location.
This new method does not entirely replace the previous postalCode search. However, we can't be bitter about what we have lost. Change happens, particularly in the world of OSINT, and we have to adapt with the times. The new method suggested by Henk works well and could help you to limit down your search results enough to get the result you want.