TMCnet Feature
November 17, 2011

Social Media Influence Tracker Klout Criticized Over Privacy Concerns

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives

Social media influence tracker Klout is getting flak for rubbing people the wrong way. After facing a privacy backlash, some industry analysts say the company needs to take a step back.

Keith Dawson (News - Alert), senior editor of The CMO Site, recently pointed out that Klout looked up all the Facebook (News - Alert) Friends of each user who had a Klout account, and (based on information in public profiles and public postings) assigned these unknowing Facebook users a Klout score – and enrolled them all in Klout. 

What’s worse is some of the Facebook accounts that Klout added without permission belonged to teens and probably also to younger children, according to Dawson. We know Facebook has a policy that no one under the age of 13 can open an account, but regardless, the presence of minors on Facebook is prevalent. The question Dawson rightly poses is, if Klout becomes tainted, won’t brands that use it want to stay away from it?

According to Klout, the firm has analyzed over 85 million people on major social networks, and is used by over 3,000 brands and applications.

Klout measures influence based on users’ “ability to drive action.” Every time a Klout user creates content or influences others on a social media site, the Klout Score uses data from social networks and measures: how many people that person influences, how much he or she influences them and the overall influence of their network.

In a blog post this week, Klout CEO and co-founder Joe Fernandez attempted to reassure the public that Klout takes privacy on the social web very seriously.

“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,” wrote Fernandez. “That said, like Facebook, Google (News - Alert), and nearly every other company in this space, we are working hard to figure this out, but will not always get everything right.”

In another post just a couple of days later, Fernandez further explains that Klout is intended to involve every person online, and defended the company’s position and vision.

“I get why Klout can rub people the wrong way. We are putting scores next to people and that can be initially off-putting. If you met anyone from the Klout team my hope would be for you to see that we are not elitist jerks but just a bunch of data nerds passionate about understanding the impact of every person online,” blogged Fernandez. “We believe that every person who creates content online has influence on some topic, to some group of people. We want to help every person maximize their reach and influence and to be recognized for the impact they have.”

As The CMO Site’s Dawson opined, Klout is an “example to all marketers tracking private information on the Internet about the dangers of being perceived as going too far.”

But, just how far, is too far? That is the question.

Erin Harrison is Executive Editor, Strategic Initiatives, for TMC, where she oversees the company's strategic editorial initiatives, including the launch of several new print and online initiatives. She plays an active role in the print publications and TMCnet, covering IP communications, information technology and other related topics. To read more of Erin's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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