Does Klout Cross the Line on User Privacy?

kloutKlout is a company that utilizes an algorithm that gathers data from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and YouTube to measure people’s influence on the internet. It’s one of the several social media analytics websites that are cropping up these days, possibly one of the fastest growing ones. In fact, Klout now boasts of having given a “score” to more than 100 million people.

If you’re not familiar with Klout, you should be. After all, you’re likely to have a profile on their site just by virtue of being on Facebook or Twitter or any other public social networking site. Some people would probably argue that they have never signed up for any such service. However, Klout is an Opt Out service. If you don’t want to be there, then you should send an e-mail to Klout and request to have your profile removed. That’s right, opting out isn’t a simple one click procedure like it should be, like it is on many other websites. Klout maintains that if you don’t want to be on Klout, then you should make your social media activities private.

That in itself is enough to make privacy advocates take up pitchforks and torches. But that’s not the only thing that privacy advocates are worried about.

Klout assigns influence ratings even to minors, even without their parents’ permission.

One Klout user found a profile of her son on the site listed as one of the people she ‘influences’. What irked her about this was the fact that she had been very stringent about her son’s online privacy. Everything was closely monitored and her son’s name would never have showed up on search engines. However, her son once made a comment on her Facebook page, on a post which happened to be public. Since then, her son had ‘klout’ and can only be removed if she e-mails Klout and asks them to do so – something which does not necessarily guarantee a prompt response.

Based on this scenario, all one really has to do to have ‘Klout’ is to have contact with someone who has public settings – and nowhere does Klout ask for permission from the person they are profiling.

Klout defends their actions by stating they only collect data that is publicly available on social networking sites. They even go so far to state the following in their FAQ:

“I never registered for Klout, why do I have a Klout profile?
Klout collects public data in order to accurately measure influence. Users can control the data available to Klout by changing the privacy settings on individual networks. Klout will never access your private data unless we have explicit permission.”

A person’s Klout’s profile provides links to that person’s corresponding Facebook or Twitter profile. It also automatically absorbs that user’s profile photo. By doing this, Klout is seriously compromising the online privacy of people, especially minors.

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