Five Questions Klout Can’t Answer



Before moving on to more pressing issues in social media—like Google+, Facebook and the emerging Social Enterprise, just to name a few—let me nail to the wall this one final post about the disaster called Klout.

After I wrote my initial post “Delete Your Klout Profile Now,” last week I offered up a dozen questions and an open mike to Klout CEO Joe Fernandez (“Klout CEO Responds to Critics”) which he graciously stepped up to.

Except, well, Joe didn’t really answer the big questions that were asked of him by myself and many other bloggers after revelations that Klout was tracking friends from Facebook with private profiles, sweeping up minors and publishing Klout scores on them, and generally prevaricating about the real purpose of Klout and how it deals with the clients who pay the bills—advertisers like Chevy and Virgin.

Here are five questions that remain unanswered by Fernandez and Klout.  And I don’t expect clear, accountable answers on any of them any time soon:

1. What is the precise number of profiles Klout has in its systems of people who have never registered with Klout or opt-ed in to Klout in any way?  And are you deleting  these “unrequested” profiles from your database?

Klout sweeps the Internet for public social media messages—right now that’s from Facebook and Twitter.  (They also will allow people who register to add links to their LinkedIn and Google+ accounts.)  Klout claimed in September to have more than 100 million profiles.  How many of these are people who never registered at Klout, and never asked for a Klout score?

This is an easy question to answer (subtract total profiles from total registered profiles) but not easy to make public.  If Klout admits that 90 million of the 100 million accounts are people who never asked to be rated by Klout, privacy issues here and in the European Union become a very public issue.  Klout doesn’t want to talk about who’s in their database and how they got there.

Think of Klout as “anti-social media.”  It’s not about sharing and building organic networks of relationships using social media.  It’s turning social media into a popularity contest, claiming a Google-like right to mysteriously—and publicly— rank your “influence.”  They might succeed at this if they go unchallenged as they amass information and use it for a proprietary public ranking.  They’re aiming to define and own a space called “public social influence ranking.”  But their lack of transparency and  accountability in publishing public rankings of people who largely haven’t opted-in will be their un-doing.

2. How many minors under the age of 18 have Klout profiles?  How many under the age of 13?

Klout can’t answer this one because there’s no way to automatically identify these profiles.  There are still underage kids getting Klout scores and being identified as experts with “social influence.”

Fernandez’ answer was mush mouthed political candidate-speak:

“This is a challenge that every company doing business on the social web faces. We work closely with the platforms and their trust and security teams to share insights and best practices. I think there is also a role we can play here in helping parents understand how data is spread on the social web so they can be more informed about what their kids are doing.”

In other words, “we don’t know, but  that’s really a problem for parents, not us.”

3. How can anyone trust Klout scores when you keep your algorithms secret and you won’t allow an independent third party to audit their accuracy?  How can you claim transparency when you’re not transparent? 

These people want to be “the standard for influence.”  Everyone from the Gallup Poll to Neilsen to the American Bureau of Circulation provides clear, unambiguous information about their processes for polling and reporting and the raw data used to compute the results.   There’s a dozen ways to game the system and there’s no discussion about how Klout proposes to police the “black hat” and “grey hat” tools and techniques to goose your Klout score.

4. What’s the specific number of people who have opted out and deleted their Klout profiles? 

Joe won’t answer this other than to say “it’s less than .01% of all profiles.” So there’s no hard numbers.  But note how he answered the question.  Klout has developed profiles on 100 million people, mostly using public data and without their knowledge and opt-in permission.

As small as .01% is, out of 100 million profiles that still would represent 10,000 people who have deleted their profiles since November 1st, and I think it would be a reasonable guess that most of those came after the fusillade of articles and blog posts in the middle of the month.

Klout could be losing 10,000+ profiles a month—and among the most active people in social media.  A study by Cornell University and Yahoo in March 2011 pointed out that 50% of all tweets on Twitter are sent by just 20,000 people.  Think about those numbers for a moment.  Even if the Cornell-Yahoo study is wrong by a factor of 10, that still means a few hundred thousand people make up the majority of tweets on Twitter.   How many of these “super users” are among the 100,000 or so who have deleted their profiles?  That specific question goes unanswered.

5. Why is Klout hiding the “delete your profile” option so that it can’t be found? 

There are only three hidden ways to delete your profile on Klout.  The easiest is to follow this path:

  1. Log in.  If you don’t have an opt-in account, you’ll have to create one using your Twitter or Facebook profile.
  2. Go to”profile settings.”
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the page, which is hidden below the fold.  You’ll see these words: “Klout values your privacy. Click here to learn more.”  Click on that link.
  4. You’ll arrive at the “Privacy Policy,” which is three screens of boilerplate privacy verbiage 1,259 words long.  At the very, very, very end of the Privacy Policy it says: “If you are not a Klout user and wish to opt out of Klout, please click here.”
  5. You’ll finally arrive at a three page dialogue to delete your profile. 

A second way: In the footer, under the heading “KLOUT FOR DEVELOPERS,” click on “Privacy,”  and you’ll go to step “4.” above.  (“Developers?”  Why only “Developers?” unless you’re deliberately trying to make the link hard to find?)

The third way: In the “Help” section, under “Your account” there are five help articles and then a link to “more.”  None of the five articles are about how to delete your account.  If you think to click on the “more” link you’ll come to a page of ten help articles, again none about deleting your account.  Finally if you click on page “2” you’ll see the final three articles, one of which is about deleting your account.

Tricky, huh?

By contrast, to delete your Facebook account you go to Home / Account Settings / Security and there is a clear link at the top of the page that says: “Deactivate your account.”

My point is if you brought 100 users to the Klout home page for a usability test and gave them the task to delete their account, I bet 90+ wouldn’t figure out how.

It’s this kind of sneaky behavior plus the weasel words that undermine any message Joe Fernandez and Klout are trying to send about transparency and authenticity.

Ugh, Enough! 

It’s time to get back to work.  I’ve got better things to do.

Going forward Klout will or will not implode as the forces of economics (and Google, I expect) work in the marketplace.

I truly hope Klout goes away, but maybe it won’t—maybe Kleiner Perkins will get their $100 million paydaywhen Klout is sold.   Who knows?

But if you can’t figure out how to delete your Klout profile, then do yourself (and all of us) a favor and please, please at least ignore Klout.

Go out and engage with interesting people on social networks and give out more than you receive.  Try to help build communities, and make them better and more valuable to everyone.

You don’t need no stinking Klout score to tell you if you’re doing the right thing in social media.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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