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?