As far as Klout's influence metric goes, my general philosophy is this: it's a number. It's useful for a high-level view, but it's not the be-all and end-all, and it's certainly not something to be used authoritatively for hiring decisions. And I know I'm a little late to the game here; I've been tracking the kerfuffle for the last week, and it's finally gotten under my skin.
I wrote about the backlash to Klout's algorithm change that lowered many users' scores here, and others, including my technobuddy Dan York, have pointed out another issue: not only did the change affect scores for that day, but Klout also changed users' historical scores. That's right; there's literally no record that your score was ever higher (or lower) than it is now. Anyone who gets hackles raised at historical revisions will cringe at that little nugget.
However, on a recent episode of my favorite PR and marketing podcast, For Immediate Release, I learned something else a bit squicky about Klout: the organization automatically scrapes data to create Klout scores from all Facebook profiles, whether the user ever signed up for Klout or not. Whether the user is an adult or a child. Klout is creating profiles for minors, even if they only shared content within the walled garden of Facebook. Many think Klout went too far this time:
”Everyone has Klout” says the Klout home page. What that means is that Klout will create a profile for you, whether you’ve opted in to be measured or not. Once they’ve created a profile for you, there is no way to opt out or deactivate your profile. Even if you don’t want to be measured, profiled, tracked or seen as endorsing their product.
The above is from a post from a parent who discovered Klout had created a profile for her young adult son, who never signed up for the service. The article also confirms that Klout profiles have been automatically created for kids as young as 13.
Open versus walled
Automatically creating Klout profiles for people with open Twitter accounts is different; it's a public network, unless the user choses to protect his or her Tweets. And Klout was quite Twitter-centric for a while. But personal Facebook profiles are by their nature limited to the user's opt-in friends, and even the privacy-deprived Facebook won't allow Google to search personal profiles.
So why is it now okay for Klout to create profiles for minors? It's not, and this behavior must change as soon as possible. I may put my entire life out there online, but I'm a firm believer that those under 21 have the right to privacy, and Klout has violated that.
As of November 1, Klout now allows users to delete their accounts. Having the option to opt out, however, is not the same as having the option to opt in. It should not be the responsibility of users to track down which services have created automated public accounts without their knowledge or consent. Klout is making an effort, but an apology would be better, along with taking responsibility for deleting the accounts of minors.
The Klout kerfuffle is another chapter in the ongoing story of both social media transparency and corporate responsibility. How can organizations avoid this in the future? First, insist on opt-in protocols for all services. Second, if you make a mistake, apologize for it and correct it immediately.