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Klout Updates Privacy Features. Is it Enough?

Two weeks ago, Klout announced changes to its algorithm that sparked a wave of outcry from users who saw their scores plummet.   The intensity of the reaction is a testament to how seriously many users take their scores, which are used by companies to deliver Perks to users with high scores, to prioritize customer service response, evaluate job applicants and more.   “I got everything short of death threats” in response to the changes, Klout CEO Joe Fernandez told Fox News Latino.  To date, Klout has not responded in detail to requests from users on more insight into the new algorithm, and the backlash and rumors continue to swirl.

Klout stirred up a privacy controversy by creating profiles and scores for unregistered Facebook usres.

An example of a Facebook user who has not registered with Klout, but does have a Klout score. (This is not my son!)

The company has, however, taken concrete steps to address another set of controversies.  On October 27, I described how Klout had crossed a serious line in online privacy by creating unauthorized profiles for people in my Facebook social graph–including my son.

The controversy was enormous, especially once people found profiles and Klout scores had been created for kids as young as 13.  Worse, at the time there was no easy way for a user to opt-out or de-activate their Klout profile.  As the word spread, this touched off a firestorm of anger from parents concerned about their kids’ privacy, as well as a very intense debate on online privacy in general.  It also created a bad business model:  in some cases, Klout now had two different profiles (and scores) for the same user, one based on the user’s Twitter and the other on Facebook data.

Klout quickly began making changes to address some of the concerns.

  • As of October 31, they were no longer showing the full profile pages for unregistered Facebook profiles, although those users still showed up, along with their Klout scores, in the influence networks of registered users
  • On November 1, Klout added the ability for users to opt out (via a not-very-easy-to-find link at the bottom of the profile settings page).  Ironically, if you’re not a registered user of Kout, you first need to confirm who you are by giving them your Twitter or Facebook account.  Once you opt out, “you will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours. You will be removed from our API within 7 days.”
  • On November 2, Klout Marketing Manager Megan Berry commented on our original post, saying that “We do not have Klout profiles for unregistered Facebook users.”
Klout has taken some steps to protect the privacy of unregistered users.  It is no longer displaying scores for unregistered Facebook users.

Klout still shows unregistered Facebook users on your Friends page--but it no longer displays their Klout score.

I asked Megan for additional clarification on that statement. and she has confirmed via email that Klout is no longer creating profiles or scores based on unregistered users pulled from Facebook, and has removed any that were created from the system.

If you are a registered Klout user, and have linked your Facebook account, you should no longer see unregistered users who are Facebook friends appear in your influence network.

The one area of your profile where Klout does display your Facebook friends is in the Friends section–where Klout now shows your most influential Twitter friends, and your most influential Facebook friends.   If you have Facebook activated, you will see a list of your Facebook friends on that page.  But Klout is no longer displaying a score for those who are not registered on the site.  Instead, there is a big question mark where their score would appear.

Yesterday, Joe Fernandez told GigaOm that “Klout is a consumer facing brand that is trying to create a public standard. With that goal in mind it is critical that we are model citizens in this space and we do everything we can to respect the privacy of our users.”

Over the last week, Klout has taken some concrete steps to address the privacy concerns.  But do the changes go far enough?  And how much should a company like Klout be held accountable for managing privacy when it comes to data that is publicly available on the web?  These questions are important to all brands who interact with digital consumers.  In addition to the legal and ethical issues involved, brands will be cautious about associating themselves with a platform that is perceived as crossing the line.

One mom I spoke to, whose 13-year-old son until briefly had a Klout score, points out that the changes still do not prevent minors from registering and creating Klout profiles and scores for themselves.  Klout says it is not interested in targeting minors, and Fernandez tells GigaOm that the company has “taken steps above and beyond what Facebook does to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Are Klout's privacy changes enough to overcome user concerns -- and make them a good partner for brands who want to offer perks?At some point, users need to take responsibility for managing their own privacy, and for what information they’re sharing online.  And parents need to take responsibility for educating their kids.  But the social networks need to do their share, too, by making it easy for customers to understand their choices and the implications of the various privacy settings available.

What do you think?  Has Klout done enough?

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  • hnmurakami

    Great additional insight, thanks for linking to my article on The Next Great Generation!

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @hnmurakami you’re welcome!

  • AnneWeiskopf

    @eric_andersen who knew? hey – can you come to #SudburySocial tomorrow? Bistro 20. 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

  • jodimariec

    yes. via @eric_andersen It’s critical we do everything possible to respect the privacy of users~@JoeFernandez, @klout http://t.co/eOVAQ5jR

  • http://www.eventuresincyberland.com/ CyberlandGal

    Great post, Tonia. I’m glad Klout is listening and is trying to do what is right, and it seems you’re satisfied your son has been removed from the Klout database. I have noticed several people I know opted out, including @DannnyBrown, do not seem to be completely gone from Klout’s database. When you search for their Twitter IDs in Klout, their Twitter photos show for a second or two on the screen and then you get a photo of a puppy dog saying Klout doesn’t have data on this user (see http://www.eventuresincyberland.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Danny.jpg). More than seven days have passed since November 1, and I am not sure what day exactly they opted out, but in my book, a photo is data. So Klout has retained some data on them as of at least today. Further, my personal Klout influencers still show people I am connected to ONLY on Facebook, even though I deleted the connection between Facebook and Klout more than a week ago. I am certain, at least in my case, my information was downloaded and retained.

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @CyberlandGal wow – I guess Jimmy Buffet was right when he said that you get checked in any time they like, but you can never leave. @DannyBrown are you in Klout or out Klout? or did you just turn into a puppy?

  • SocialNsight

    This is a letter that I just sent to Klout…sound familiar?

    I signed out of my husband’s Twitter account on our IPad. Then I signed into Klout using my name and email connected to my Twitter account. Next thing showing was my husband’s Twitter information on your home page requesting that he tie-in more of his social media information. Are you confused well…. so am I.

    What or who gave you the right to gather unsolicited Twitter information from our IPad and then without a request…sign him into your homepage with MY information. Klout’s actions are like a complete stranger walking into my house and sitting down uninvited and not leaving. I feel that we have been victimized by your technology on our IPad. If you can secretly gather our information without our permission this is substandard methods…stop.

    Please remove my husband’s information from your files…just because we both use this IPad does not give Klout permission to gather his information forcing more information from after I signed in with my Twitter account.

    More importantly, I want to delete my information from your site completely. I do not want my unsolicited score showing up when someone else that follows me signs into their Klout account AT ALL. That is my right to privacy. I will be contacting the proper authorities along with Twitter regarding this matter. Klout is using unscrupulous stalking tactics.

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @SocialNsight wow. that’s bizarre — and creepy.

      • SocialNsight

        @tonia_ries <~~follow @socialmediaHWY I would like to DM a short message

        • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

          @SocialNsight done!

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  • rohnjaymiller

    Tonia: Klout has moved the “delete your profile” link from the “profile settings” page to the bottom of the privacy page. In it’s place there is a link that says “Klout values your privacy. Click here to learn more.” This new link obviously makes no reference to deleting your profile, and further, on a 1024 X 780 screen the sentence and link cannot be seen–it’s below the scroll.

    The link to delete your profile now lives at the end of a very long boilerplate privacy policy statement dated June 2011. Again there’s no way you would surmise there’s a link to delete your profile at the bottom of the page.

    All of this is beyond preposterous. I’ve asked Klout CEO Joe Fernandez for the total number of profiles deleted voluntarily since the option was first offered on November 1st. I’ve also asked him for the number of profiles in the Klout system created without the knowledge or consent of the individual. So far he’s said he would get back to me on these an other questions.

    Thanks for your focus on Klout as one of the deeply flawed social network applications.

    –RJM

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @rohnjaymiller it certainly begs the question: were they seeing so many account deletes that they had to make it harder to find the link? Let us know if Joe gets back to you…

  • SocialNsight

    As of today…Klout never responded to my concerns regarding the issue that I described in my first comment listed below. I sent this complaint in via the form on their website on Monday November 14th at approxiamtely 5:45 am PST. Very troubling. Ignoring your visitors will not make these serious issues go away in the mean time no doubt they will continue to lose a substantial amount of their registered users.

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @SocialNsight did you send it to the help@klout.com email address?

      • SocialNsight

        @tonia_ries I used the support form on their website….

        • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

          @SocialNsight since they have the data they want about you without your help, maybe they don’t feel they need to talk to you… :-)

        • SocialNsight

          @tonia_ries the vast amount of scrutiny #Klout is under is huge. While they are measuring everyone’s influence their influence and clout is rapadily decreasing. I will re-send my letter to the email address that you provided however I don’t expect a response!

        • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

          @SocialNsight good luck!

  • ChrisBoese

    I just unlinked my Facebook account. I have to say, under influencers, with the algorithm changes at Klout recently, all of my “normal” twitter influencers (many with upper Klout scores) have all been wiped out and replaced with some of my Facebook friendswith private Facebook accounts who often “like” things I post on Facebook. And my Klout score has tanked.

    Other bits of my Klout score aren’t updating either, despite social activity on my site (see the badges section, for instance, those haven’t updated in MONTHS, the bottom ones, so it says I still have 50 list memberships even tho I have had more than 100 for nearly 6 months now).

    It’s like all of a sudden I am being completely defined by my Facebook circle of (private) interactions with real life friends, instead of my very active Twitter presence with more than 1,000 really interesting people I follow and chat with and retweet.

    I have no idea what Klout is doing, but clearly algorithm validation isn’t part of it.

    • http://therealtimereport.com/ tonia_ries

      @ChrisBoese you’re not the only one, Chris. Something is not adding up…

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