Klout – One word that has created a very big buzz in online communities.

Klout – A measurement of online influence?

Klout – A Marketing company or a measurement company?

Klout. Klout.  Klout.

Since Klout indicates that I am influential on the very topic of Klout, I thought it would be appropriate to share some concerns and opinions I have on the topic. There are many concerns and questions being raised daily on social media.  Many have questions and concerns in regard to Klout and I have been contacted directly as I tend to be one of the few willing to step up and ask what many are asking.  I do not wish to attack yet to do what any good leader or reporter would do.  I wish to simply tell the story.  I wish to tell The Klout Story.  I will do so with integrity, honesty, transparency and authenticity.

The Klout Story – Part One – Are You reading Between the LInes?

I recently read the post “Does Klout Matter?”  In my option, Klout doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.  Not at least until the executive team at Klout answer some basic questions and begin to institute  some transparency with and for their users. But to many members of online and offline communities, Klout matters because they simply believe it increases the power of their influence.

Klout self proclaims themselves as “The Standard of Influence”. There are many definitions of a ‘standard’. Very generally, a standard might simply be defined as ‘a set of rules for ensuring quality’. But what is the quality standard that Klout provides to us, and how accurate is it? By their own statements, Klout is not accurate. How can they call themselves the standard of influence when they acknowledge on a daily bases that their data is not accurate?

Lets look at influence as well. According to the dictionary influence is defined as:

“ the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command”.

If I recommend to my audience a product or service and 80% of them buy it, I would be influential. But, if I had many complaints about my product or service, my influence would be close to zero. This is where I see Klout fails. Klout measures the raw action acted upon by my content shared within Social Media. They take in account the number of retweets, shares, likes, videos watched, replies and so on. Klout doesn’t take in account any variable of after effect, like negative comments and complaints. And here Klout fails. According to Klout, all actions equal the same influence, but that’s simply not true.

I was recently in a group tweet chat with Ms. Megan Berry as the guest. Megan is marketing manager and privacy officer at Klout. I asked Megan if there was any study available that would support their findings that Klout measure influence. She answered that no studies where ever made.

To be the “Standard of Influence”, Klout should have to provide official documentation to support this claim. Just like the standards certified by the Institute of Science and Technology, and other official gatekeepers for various prestigious and recognized entities, Klout should also be fully vetted before they are allowed to make as well as use such a claim. Until then, what Klout does is simply measure our online movements, reactions and actions as raw data.

Klout & Privacy Issues

There are at least three major concerns in regard to how Klout handles our privacy.  In my opinion, Klout breaches everyone’s privacy on daily basis, even if you’re not registered with Klout. When registering with Klout, you simply authorize Twitter or Facebook to connect to your own Klout account. Klout then syncs the data and calculates your Klout score. Here are the three main areas of privacy concern:

1. When connecting your Klout profile to Twitter, you agree to the Terms and Conditions of Twitter. But did you know that when you sign up for a Twitter account you are, by default, agreeing to Klout publishing a profile on your behalf? No where when signing up for Twitter does Twitter’s TOS say you agree to the actions of Klout. The same applies to Facebook.

2. When you do officially register for Klout, you only agree that Klout can read your Twitter timeline, and see who you follow. But whether or not you register, you never give them the rights to publish your full Twitter profile information, including your full name, location, picture, set up Klout label nor either publish your profile across the web.

3.  But even if you’re not registered, Klout uses your information to create a profile for you whether you know it, or agree to it, or not. It includes all your Twitter profile information, picture, influence topics, and who you influence, and they expose this to entire world completely without your permission. There are no terms of service or agreements to check, it is just done.

While you may consider your Twitter or Facebook accounts separate from your employer, for example, Klout considers them fair game to display to the entire world without your permission. Furthermore, Klout touts your Klout score as something that employers should be using to gauge your job worthiness. How would you feel if a prospective employer found your Klout score that you didn’t even know you had? What if your terms of influence weren’t what you wanted a prospective employer to discover? Worse, what if a prospective or current employer made decisions about you based partially or wholly on a Klout score you weren’t even aware existed?

Klout and Twitter both need to better define their registration processes and privacy issues. Users need to know exactly the terms of service across both platforms since they’re automatically linked whether we realize it or not. We need to know what we’re really consenting to when agreeing to their terms of service.

What is fascinating to me that my privacy on Facebook is set to high protection and my profile can’t be found in public search, but yet I can be seen on Klout with no advent of modifying that information. Additionally, Klout announced that nearly 2000 companies were accessing the Klout data base on daily bases in search of influential people across the web, but in the Terms of Service published on Klout, there is no information or clause that we agree that our data can be shared with 3rd party vendors of Klout.

Problems with Klout’s Terms of Service (TOS)

“Welcome to Klout. By accessing the Klout website (“Site”) or using the services offered by Klout (“Services”) you agree and acknowledge to be bound by these Terms of Service (“Terms”). If you do not agree to these Terms, please do not access the Site or use the Services. Klout reserves the right to change these Terms at any time. We recommend that you periodically check this Site for changes.”

This is the first Term that we must agree to. The main issue, as I stated above, is that the Klout Terms of Service are not available during the registration. There is no check box or confirmation binding me to the Terms of Service. Klout should ask users to agree to their Terms and Service directly during the registration process.

Site Content

You understand that all postings, messages, text, images or other materials (“Content”) posted or published on, uploaded to, transmitted through, or linked from (hereinafter, “post” or “posted”), the Service are the sole responsibility of the person from whom such Content originated. You understand that Klout does not control, and is not responsible for, Content made available through the Service, and that by using the Service, you may be exposed to Content that is offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. Furthermore, the Site and Content available through the Service may contain links to other websites which are completely independent of Klout. Klout makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or authenticity of the information contained in any such site. Your linking to any other websites is at your own risk. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of any Content, that you may not rely on said Content, and that under no circumstances will Klout be liable in any way for any Content or for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of any Content posted or otherwise made available via the Service. You acknowledge that Klout does not pre-screen or approve Content, but that Klout shall have the right (but not the obligation) in its sole discretion to refuse, delete or remove any Content that is available via the Service, in connection with violations of the letter or spirit of the Terms of Use or for any other reason.

Now if you take a close look at the section of TOS above, you will see that entire paragraph talks about posting, sharing, uploading and so on, on the site of Service, which in this case is Klout. But Klout is not a platform that we can post, share or upload any content to. What they need to make very clear here is that the content you post on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else they decide to pull from, and either with or without your permission, is the content they are warning you about. Again, this TOS extends to those with unregistered or unclaimed profiles on Klout, too. This is the same ‘employer concern’ I was speaking of earlier.

There are many more of Klouts Terms of Service that don’t make sense either. The link below will take you to current their TOS and you can read it for yourself.  I’d recommend saving a copy due to their ability to change their terms on the fly.

Klout Terms of Service – Klout TOS on September 19 2011

On top of the above Klout privacy and TOS concerns, there also are no options to deactivate your account, nor to hide all or certain parts of your profile. There are no terms in their Privacy Policy that compel us to agree to disclose the entirety of this collected and collated information to the world. There is no clause that states we agree that our profiles and their data can be shared with Klout’s 3rd party vendors.

The only clause in the Privacy Policy on Klout is in regard to their Service Providers. Klout discloses that they use 3rd party data companies to help them maintain their data. Whether you’re registered or not, you’re agreeing to 3rd party data companies accessing your information.

Additionally, it’s my opinion that Klout may be pitting the 2000 companies accessing our data in a possible legal battle against us. This represents thousands of Twitter users worldwide, potentially every single Twitter user out there, due to their unauthorized access of our information published through the Klout website.

I sincerely hope that all 2000 companies who share their API and access our data are aware of the magnitude of the potential privacy breach and that Twitter and other legal entities will take a closer look at the privacy concerns and what appear to be breaches in the Klout system.

To be continued…