Klout: Measuring Social Influence While Invading Your Privacy

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It might sound like harmless: Klout is an online ranking and measuring tool that uses an algorithm to determine a user’s influence in the social sphere. Monitoring activity on sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, Klout ranks users and gives them a score that indicates how influential they are to their social community. Now, as most social tools, Klout is facing privacy troubles.

It all started at the end of October when, as reported by the New York Times, blogger Tonia Ries, noticed that her son Timothy Carson, 21, had a profile on Klout that linked to his Facebook page. Interestingly, Carson had never registered with Klout. The story broke when Ries published her discovery on her blog, The Real Time Report. In her article, Ries also cited that this Klout privacy invasion wasn’t a new issue; in fact Danny Brown reported on Klout’s lack of an opt-out option in August.

Soon after, another social media lover, blogger and mother, Maggie Leifer McGary, noticed that her 13 year old son, Matthew, had a Klout profile and a score. He also had never created a profile or used the service before, but his data and information were pulled from other sites, like Facebook, even though his so-called privacy settings were securely setup and he is a minor.

So what is Klout actually doing? According to chief executive, Joe Fernandez, the site, as quoted by the Times, “culls information about individuals from publicly available sources: posts and followers on Twitter, engagement on Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and so on. It lifts information from 13 separate networks.”

In the past weeks, many critics have spoken out against the measuring and analytics tool.  Gigaom asks, “Is Klout crossing the line when it comes to privacy?” Charlie Stross even goes as far to say that Klout is “an evil social network.”

Under fire from privacy advocates, Klout quickly got its act together. Earlier this week, the company announced that is no longer creating shadow profiles of non-users.  Additionally, current users now have the option to delete their accounts and profiles.

Fernandez, in a recent statement on Klout’s blog, stated, “Privacy on the social web is an incredibly complex issue that we approach with the utmost seriousness. Our mission is to help people understand their influence and to get the most out of it. With that goal in mind, it is critical that we are model citizens in this space and do everything we can to respect the privacy of our users.”

It appears now after severe privacy issues and allegations, that Klout is taking user (and non-user) privacy seriously. We want to hear from you. Do you use Klout and do you plan to continue to use the metric service? In the future, would you trust that Klout will handle privacy concerns in the right manner?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.

  • Tonia Ries

    Hi Jillian – nice post – thanks for covering this story! I wanted to clarify one thing: Klout has said that they are no longer creating profiles for unregistered Facebook users. But they do continue to create “shadow” profiles for unregistered Twitter users. And, while they added a way for people to delete their account, it is not easy to find, and there are now reports that they may only suppress the public profile, but continue to track and store the data. (see: http://socialmediatoday.com/softwarehollis/386505/lies-damned-lies-and-klout-lies) They have made some moves to address the issues, but many people are wondering if it’s enough.

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