Sorry Klout, but You Can’t Polish a Turd

The deceit of Klout

“Greater transparency! More actions will contribute to your score! Real-world influence signals to enrich our data! New look to help you understand, shape and earn recognition!” So screamed everyone’s love-to-hate influencer scoring tool Klout last week. And then reality sunk it.

A few months ago, I quit Klout. I removed my profile and cut all ties by revoking access to all of the social platforms I had connected to it. I did so because a) I don’t see that it has any remote value to me, b) I fundamentally dislike Klout’s business model of rewarding people for gaming social media, c) I also fundamentally dislike anything that’s based on opt-out not opt-in, and d) I’ve read too much about privacy concerns for me to want it to have access to my data. I’m by far the only one. Many leading lights in the world of social communications have done the same.

And yet, I was intrigued by the ‘new Klout’, partly because it’s my job to know this stuff. I was considering re-signing up. That is, until within a day or two of Klout’s big announcement, when the blogosphere started to light up with reviews of the new features and, inevitably, renewed criticism of the platform.

Too Little, Too Late?

Neville Hobson wrote about how, going through the same thought process as me, he went to re-sign up only to find that despite unlinking everything ten months ago, his account was just ‘disabled’ rather than deleted. WTF? “Why on earth would I give Klout any trust at all?”, he says in a post entitled ‘Will Klout Ever Let You Go?

Danny Brown, probably the most vocal Klout critic over the last year or two (seriously, he’s like a bulldog with a particularly tasty bone in its jaws), wrote about how, despite the new privacy systems, Klout was still profiling an 11 year old boy.

On a more positive note, Mark Schaefer wrote a very balanced piece analysing the new features and asking whether Klout has answered its critics. For quick reference, he says ‘yes and no’. “Klout is still missing out on a real gold mine of online influence — blogs and YouTube videos”, he goes on to assert.

But the fact is, I don’t care if Klout is bigger and better or not. I don’t care if its scoring system is supposedly more accurate, or if I can better see how that score is arrived at. The fact remains that Klout is deceitful in the way it operates and consistently misleads people when it comes to data and privacy. Maybe Klout could develop into something useful in future, but until this organisational ethos changes, we should not be giving it the time of day. End of story.

Like this post? Subscribe to FutureComms and get it straight to your inbox.

  • rebeccamaschke

    “based on opt-out not opt-in”
    “privacy concerns”
    “deceitful in the way it operates and consistently misleads people when it comes to data and privacy”

    You’re still on Facebook, right?!

    • Paul Sutton

      haha! Touche.

      I think the key probably comes down to the benefit one gets from Facebook. In fact, I was talking to a journalist about this very issue on Friday. With Facebook, I derive huge benefit from the ability to keep in touch with and have a laugh with friends, better my relationships with people I’ve met through my job (like you, for instance, Rebecca), and source interesting and relevant information. Given that, I’m prepared to put up with the minefield that is Facebook’s privacy settings and to tweak them periodically. With Klout, on the other hand, I got no benefit whatsoever and had no settings to tweak!

      I’m not defending Facebook and there are things I really dislike. As well as the over-complicated privacy settings, I despise frictionless sharing. But at least I have the option to turn all that stuff off at source. At least Facebook doesn’t assign you a profile whether or not you want one. Klout’s entire ‘opt out’ rationale is simply awful and something I just cannot move past.

      So yeah, I take your point. But like I say, Facebook has benefit, Klout has none.

      • rebeccamaschke

        I totally understand what you mean by Facebook’s having a benefit as opposed to Klout, which, let’s face it, no-one really needs. On the other hand, though, I don’t see a problem with Klout gathering information to form a profile of someone, because all the information it needs is out there anyway. It’s not coming into your bedroom to search through the drawers in your bedside table to compile secret information. You put the info online and it’s now out there. This is what we need to educate people about, not about how big bad Mr (or Ms.) Klout is stealing our secrets.

        Instead of being dismayed over a Klout profile of an 11-year-old child, perhaps we should be asking ourselves what an 11-year-old child is doing online and how he/she can learn to use it responsibly?

        • Paul Sutton

          So if a dating website put together a profile on you that anyone could see without your permission based on your social media profiles, that would be OK because the data is public? What if it was a fascist organisation? Or a p*rn site?

        • Danny Brown (@DannyBrown)

          Hi Rebecca,

          The 11-year old child was online (along with his 14-year old sister) because his mum (very versed in social media) wants to educate her kids on online use – the benefits and the pitfalls. Let’s face it, kids are going to go online anyway – it’s better to try and help them than it is to encourage them to do so deceitfully.

          However, that’s a moot point, By their own definition, Klout are breaking their own Privacy terms, since they say they have no interest in profiling minors. Yet they cater to kids 13 and up – when the accepted age in most places for minors is up until 18. That’s 5 years of childhood that’s being profiled, despite Klout’s insistence it’s not important to them…

          • rebeccamaschke

            Hi Danny,

            I absolutely agree with educating kids when it comes to online – and there is no better way to learn than by doing. I haven’t read Klout’s privacy terms (perhaps it’s about time I educated myself there). Is it clear to them that they have children in their system? Is the child’s age part of their social profile? (The last I heard, the minimum age necessary for a facebook profile was 14?) If age is the question, then maybe we should not only be cracking down on Klout, but all other social networks as well?

            In the end, though, I still can’t see the harm in Klout. It’s not fascism, it’s not p*rn, so what’s so bad about it? Maybe I’m missing something.

    • Amy Vernon (@AmyVernon)

      The difference between Klout & Facebook is that you opted in to Facebook by creating an account there. In order to not have a Klout account, you have to opt out. (Full disclosure: I’m still on Klout but take it with less than a grain of salt.)

  • rebeccamaschke

    Hmm, interesting point. No, I don’t think I would be comfortable with my information being used for those things you mention. There is always a line that needs to be drawn. I guess mine lies just behind Klout 😉

    If people are aware that this is the kind of ‘business’ that Klout or any other organisation runs, i.e. we don’t assign too much or indeed any credit or importance to it, then I don’t see it having any real significance. I think the responsibility still lies with the individual. There will always be ‘baddies’ out there who are up to no good, so it is up to each and every person to educate and be educated about the risks involved.

  • James Dearsley

    Interesting article and comments. I think I am with Rebecca here TBH. If you are “out there” surely you have to expect this? If information is out there to be collated then surely it Klout isn’t doing anything wrong?

    On the flip side I despise the fact that it plays into my competitive instincts (can I just get one more point?!) and also I doubt it will have too much use this side of the Atlantic as its “perks” are not really UK friendly.

    Having said, that, I do find it a useful research tool to see who is influential on particular topics – surely a good thing for marketeers?


    • Paul Sutton

      Don’t mean to be rude, James, but nonsense! Just because you use social media and put yourself ‘out there’ does not for one minute mean that you should ‘expect’ companies to be able to create profiles for you on their platforms without your permission. Whether or not Klout is doing anything legally wrong, it’s certainly ethically wrong. Or is that just me?

      • Steve Ward (@CloudNineRec)

        There are many sites out there collating our information for public consumption without our knowledge. The SocialCV is a perfect example.
        Where the fundamental problem lies, is scoring someone based on this – and in doing so, creating a public social hierarchy which companies like Salesforce are using to rank humans, rather than customers.

        The only people who genuinely care about, or spend too much time on Klout, are the people who are working the floor, gaming the system, consciously managing their communications preferences, and manipulating the sharing environment. They are welcome to a big f-off Klout score – because their sharing is not authentic.

        The bad news though, is that people ARE measuring us by this stuff, and somewhere folk who completely ignore it, will get penalised somewhere along the way. THAT’s the real social issue.

        Klout is social media for News of the World readers. Headline making, trashy, immoral and unnecessary. But we can’t help but look now and again…

        • Paul Sutton

          …which is another (lesser) reason I quit, Steve. We’re all curious and if you’re a part of it, you can’t help but look every now and again…even if you think it’s tosh. Without a Klout profile, I no longer face that issue :)

    • Danny Brown (@DannyBrown)

      In Canada, there’s a ruling of “explicit permission”. This means you have to explicitly approve something like Klout’s right to create a profile based on your public activity. Since this is not given by (probably) many of the profiles on Klout, they’re treading very questionable legal grounds – a reason the Canadian Commissioner’s Office in Canada has been asked to look at the practice.

      This is the same office that forced Facebook’s hand on privacy, and made them change the way Canadian accounts were handled.

      • rebeccamaschke

        There are huge privacy concerns here in Germany, too. But these services still make it through, because, seemingly, the internet is international, and there are too many laws restricting things to introduce laws restricting things quickly (bureaucracy is a nightmare in this country). I hope that made sense. In any case, I am impressed that Canada was able to enforce changes re facebook there, as everyone is up in arms about it here, but the governent doesn’t seem to get any further than that.

  • Olly Gosling (@ollygosling)

    On a slightly separate note, it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter’s new API restrictions affect services like Klout. Perhaps an unexpected benefit to the Twitter being a massive arse, is that services like Klout will no longer be able to access data for people that haven’t explicitly signed up for the service…

    • Paul Sutton

      Suddenly I like Twitter’s stupid new API approach…

  • Sarah Rajabalee

    I’m with you on this one Paul – I don’t care if Klout has improved or not. I don’t trust it – and we all know in the world of the social web – trust is everything. To me Klout means nowt. I follow someone/brands because they’re engaging, fun and of value on their actual social network – not their Klout score. It worries me that people are being employed (or not) based on their score. I was a casual user/just listening category for ages, and nothing I did would move it. I was also influential about knives and salmon at one point – I don’t really recall posting/Rt’ing/sharing about those two topics on any of my networks, but it was obviously important enough to be included (it’s skateboards and speakers now). Because of this – I don’t trust Klout scores/influence. I’d rather do my own research and use my own judgement. Excuse my ignorance – but if I’m not on a particular network, does that mean my score is being penalised?

    • Paul Sutton

      The topics are a joke. There’s been a long-running meme/game of giving people +K in weird topics so they show up as influencers in, for example, sheep. Topic-related influence through Klout is ridiculous (although apparently the algorithm is far better now…uh-huh…). As you say, do your own research, use your own judgement. Don’t trust something that assigns you a profile whether or not you want one.

  • Jay Baer (@jaybaer)

    Good stuff Paul, thank you. You might be interested in my post today, where I took a different angle on this question. I ponder whether broad measures of “influence” like Klout and Kred will be replaced by channel-specific analytics systems.

    • Paul Sutton

      Will take a read. Thanks Jay.

  • Bradley H. Smith
  • David Pylyp

    You can have all the Special K’s you desire
    KRED will kick the crap out of Klout…

    Sorry. I couldn’t resist
    David Pylyp
    Living in Toronto and trying to sift thru what really matters….

  • Pingback: Seeking Social Media Clout While Scoring and Losing Klout | Building Creative Bridges()