ZeroKlout2

Klout, Big Data and the Meaning of “Opt Out”

Is it possible to have a Klout Score of Zero (K = 0)?

Why, you might ask, would anybody want to have such a score in the gamified realm of influence measurement, where higher scores indicate a higher level of perceived online influence?

The answer may lie in the way that Klout profiles you, branding you a Specialist, an Observer, or a Broadcaster. The answer may also lie in how people relate to Big Data, vaguely defined ranking algorithms, and the increased tendency of offline organizations to make some big, and potentially misleading, assumptions about the role of online influence in an offline world.

“Klout calculates billions of data points across over 100 million influencers every day.” ~ Klout.com

Whatever the reason, there are people who simply want out.  But opting out, and driving your score to a meaningless Zero, is apparently a bit more difficult in the Klout dimension than one might imagine.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA

Mr. Fiorella was recently referenced in a Wired.com article (What your Klout Score really means) that delved into an experience he had a while back with a potential employer, who eliminated Sam (and possibly others) from the list of candidates based on his perceived “sub-par” Klout Score. As listed on the Klout.com website…

It’s not the first time something in the online world has impacted a decision in the offline world, and it definitely won’t be the last (see Jeremiah Owyang’s post “How ‘Social Profiling’ Will Work In The Real World“).

Sam ultimately did improve his Klout Score (into the 70’s) but was never happy with the idea of being ranked (or branded) by an algorithm for online OR offline purposes. So when Klout offered an “opt out” option at the beginning of November, 2011, he promptly did just that. He opted out and initiated the deletion of his Klout profile, per the language on the Klout site:

Klout Opt Out

As far as Sam was concerned, he was satisfied that after opting out nobody would be able to view his Klout Score moving forward and that only trace data would remain in the system (for 180 days, after which it would be removed).

He also understood that Klout would continue track his activities on the public broadcast social site Twitter. 

Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if Klout NEEDS to track Sam privately in order to accurately determine the Klout Scores of others within his Twitter social graph. In essence, influencers who are not tracked become dark matter, or invisible thought leaders. They mess with what we perceive by influencing behavior in unseen ways. 

But there was also a level of expectation that the information gathered on Twitter (and his resulting private Klout Score) would to be kept private and OFF the Klout.com site.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

I PRESENT TO YOU MR. SAM FIORELLA’S GHOST

In the name of full disclosure, I know Sam personally and I am a registered Klout user. I was also aware when he, and others, opted out of Klout last year. So when I read the Wired article, and the various other articles and posts that it spawned, the analyst in me was just a bit curious to see if Sam had in fact been removed from the site. So I search Klout.com and found no public profile or information on him.

But I did come across the profile of a friend of mine, and attached to that profile, in their Influencers list, was the smiling face of Sam Fiorella. On the site, exactly where it should not have been.

Apparently, the phrase “you will be removed from Klout.com within 24-48 hours” – as mentioned in the Klout opt out statement – may not mean what you think it means.

Sam opted out from Klout almost 6 months ago. Could this possibly be the “trace data” mentioned in the Klout “opt out” statement?  I don’t believe so, as his current Twitter avatar is on display along with an assumingly current Klout Score of 52 (which sounds plausible since Klout appears to be pulling his data only from Twitter, not the complete list of social sites that Sam previously had linked to his Klout account, and it increased to 53 last night).

But wait, there’s more (thank you Ron Popeil). While I did pass on the option to invite Sam back to Klout (he wouldn’t have accepted anyway), I couldn’t resist the chance to test the software and see if it would allow me to give him a +K in Blogging. It did:

I’m not sure the +K stuck (even though it does now show me a greyed out +K button for Sam and Blogging, it apparently didn’t decrement my +K counter).

But the mere fact that it allowed me to go through the action, give me a success notification and offer the option to Tweet the +K out, was more than just a bit interesting – it was a challenge to figure out what had gone wrong, how it might be corrected and to think strategically a bit about some of the larger (beyond Klout) implications it might have.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

From a social perspective, you cannot deny that influence exists – marketing, advertising and sales people have been trying to identify and target influential consumers for years. Nor can we deny that our online and offline lives are colliding extremely fast, and influence in one medium can, and will, transcend to another.

From an online influence measurement perspective, there is a defined need to look for insights in online behavior (served by Klout and other firms such as PeerIndex, Twitalyzer, TweetLevel, etc.), and the people at Klout have been very honest and open with me, and others, about how and why they are undertaking this task. 

But there is a disconnect when a phrase like “removed” appears to mean “erased a bit” – not quite how I would interpret it.

CAN WE ACHIEVE ZERO?

When Sam opted out of Klout, he assumed that he would still have a Klout Score, but that his information would no longer be shared or visible to others – in essence giving him a public null Klout Score (K = 0) that he sought. While the data would still exist, and be interpreted by Klout, they would not share their interpretations with others.

So why is Sam Fiorella still appearing on Klout? Perhaps there is an issue that weaves around Klout’s interpretation of words, and the managing of expectations from a contractual Terms of Service (TOS) perspective. Or perhaps it has to do with the massive amounts of Big Data that we are crunching on an ongoing basis, with technology evolving at such a rapid pace that glitches and ghosts, while unacceptable, are going to occur. Either way, there is a flaw somewhere in the system, and Mr. Fiorella has become its poster child.

PRIVACY AND PERVASIVE COMMUNICATIONS

Sam’s issue with Klout is bigger than either Sam or Klout. Not to diminish what Sam is going through, neither Sam nor Klout are alone in facing issues regarding personal data, big data, privacy or changing technology. If anything, his dilemma is indicative of a much larger series of questions and issues that we face.

We live in an age of technology-enabled Pervasive Communications. Our ability to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere at any time, over a multitude of communications channels, is allowing us to unleash our DNA-driven need to create, share and consume content and information with others.

As we do this, our public actions are increasingly tracked, tagged, shared and mined by people and companies that we’ve never met. They’re sifting through piles of Big Data looking for patterns, for trends, for clues regarding what influences our decisions, and how our decisions influence – if at all – the decisions of others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when this activity lacks true transparency of both intent and use, the user is increasingly, and unknowingly, giving away far more than they are receiving in return.

“There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

~ Rod Serling

The data is out there and it’s not going away. It may lose some of its relevance, but it will still be out there and is increasingly being linked with other data to create “new” data. The questions of who really owns our data (both pre and post-processing), how and when it can be shared and reused, and how much light (transparency) should be shined upon it, will likely be argued (and should be) for many years to come.

While many individuals may argue that they want their data out there (in an effort to achieve a richer, more engaging online experience), I do believe that there are different times and places for private and public, and, as individuals, businesses and governments, we need to continually ask ourselves:

  • What should the ground-rules be for how Terms of Service and ownership of data are defined?
  • How will we let these definitions and rules evolve and adapt to technology and human behavior patterns that don’t yet exist or have yet to be defined?
  • How can we provide true transparency (in simple terms) to online users regarding their data and its linkages with other data (there’s a business out there if you can create that infograph, BTW)? And,
  • How we are going play together in an ever shrinking sandbox where transparency has become a buzz-word and personal privacy continues to become increasingly elusive?

I also believe that when an “opt out” option is offered, as it was with Klout, it should be just that – a way for you to take yourself, and your data, OUT of the system. If not for your actions, the data wouldn’t exist in the first place.

 

 Note: Images adapted from Klout.com

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

    This is hilarious … and sad.  I guess I have to admit that I am the one who “discovered” Sam and his story for my book Return On Influence. The story was pretty much ripped off from the book by Wired (as was 75% of the article actually).  Nevertheless, I feel some guilt for elevating Sam to poster child. 

    I really find this alarming that when a person opts-out that the ghost in the machine lives on. This certainly is a hint of what we will all be facing with big data — we are a number to be manipulated by the machine, forever it seems. Even Orwell would be amazed at where this is all heading.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking and well-written post. 

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Hah! Finally somebody to blame for Sam’s status as a “poster child” ;) Seriously, though, you are dead on – as I mentioned in my comment to Karen, we have totally lost control of our data and its “afterlife”, something that neither we (as consumers) or businesses (as #BigData manipulators) ever really thought through when we first stepped into the digital realm of “my data for your free services”. This is something that is troubling as more and more of our digital lives are pulled together to form a mosaic that most of us don’t realize exists.

      Every photo we are tagged in, every post we are mentioned in, not to mention all the personal information that can be legally bought and/or shared electronically, all get pulled together to shape our digital selves. I wonder how many people in the early days of Facebook would have tagged their kids (as often as they did) in photos had they known it would result in a new record labeled “your child”, which would, over time, be given a name and a history of life events. Yes, perhaps Orwell would be amazed…

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  • http://twitter.com/samfiorella samfiorella

    Well, let me thank you for raising my lack of respect for Klout and its metric-measurement (notice I did not say influence measurement) to utter disgust for their practices. I understood that this is a business for them and that they use the vanities of marketers to power their IPO/acquisition path but was blissfully unaware that they manufactured ghosts when you opted out in order to keep their engine running.

    They don’t invite people to opt in and so I never chose to be a hamster on their wheel. But I chose to jump off. To continue to scan my online activity after I’ve opted out and share their spin on that data publicly is down right disgusting and frankly, unethical.

    But sheep will be sheep and I guess Klout-addicts will continue to follow them till they’re led off the cliff. 

    • http://www.peoplebrowsr.com/ Shawn Roberts

      Hi Sam,

      I’m the Marketing Communications Director for Kred.  I saw your post and set your privacy in Kred to the maximum level.  Your name, score and interactions should not be visible to anyone in our system.  If you wish to change this and go back public, settings are located at http://kred.com/privacy.  

      Cheers!
      Shawn

      • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

        Shawn – Thank you for being proactive on this issue. That speaks volumes.

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Hey Sam – In the end, it all comes down to data: how we define it, how we use it and the value we place on it. In this case, there are some major issues that have combined to create a perfect storm, including a tendency by companies to adopt a default “opt-in” approach regard to users on public social media platforms (it is public) and the difficulty companies face keeping pace with both the scope of the #BigData they are collecting and the complexity of the software required to extract value.

      I’ve spoken with Klout about this issue and have been pleased with the way they have addressed it. Ironically, I also have had some conversations with them about another “bug in the machine” problem that caused my own Klout account to drop connections to social networks that I had added and ultimately delete my entire profile w/o my consent. Yes, Klout gave me what you were seeking even though I wasn’t asking!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=666732771 Max Beggelman

    It’s most likely just an issue of minimal implementation – it simply deleted the public profile page which functioned as a centralized collection of his information, while still keeping his data. Obviously, they were never going to remove his data from the Klout system, but they probably only put the bare minimum of effort into their “privacy” features, and failed to account for all the places on their website that his data may show up.

    It seems to be a common problem in businesses that depend on heavy data collection: the privacy features are only provided as a token effort to avoid bad press like this, rather than out of genuine concern for users’ privacy, so mistakes like this are common. Typically they just yank the public profile or listing, but fail to do a full privacy assessment and ensure that the information has become completely inaccessible and won’t show up elsewhere. Facebook, for example, is a chronic offender.

    How to fix it? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s all public information, so it’s nearly impossible to stop Klout from collecting it. Raising a complaint might work, but I doubt they’ll make it a priority. Privacy laws in the EU might be strong enough to support a legal case, but not in the US. Businesses can collect your data, and as long as they’re up-front about it and have a privacy policy, there really isn’t anything you can do about it.

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Max – Thanks for bringing up a key point: privacy laws in the US pale in comparison to the EU. While that may be stifling some business endeavors, it also opens up new opportunities for individuals and business to forge a mutually beneficial (and equal) relationship. Just a point to consider. Thanks again for the feedback.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.moriarty.188 Mike Moriarty

    Thank you for sharing the follow up as well. I wondered what really had happened to Sam or if he even existed (Sorry Mark and Seth). It’s good to know that you are indeed real and I appreciate you and Fred sharing your stories.

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Yes, Sam does in fact exist. As to his data trail, I’m sure that it exists on a backup server somewhere (I’m just not sure who owns it). Be well.

  • http://twitter.com/JanMinihane Jan Minihane

    Really eye-opening post. I “deleted” my account (which was a cumbersome process, one click to sign up, a lot of searching and hoop-jumping to leave) some months ago for many of the reasons you highlight above. I now wonder if it’s still there in some way – oh hang on, but I’d have to sign in to see….. :-(

    Thanks for sharing :-)

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Funny how jumping in is so simple and extraction so difficult. There’s a good “quicksand” metaphor in here somewhere! Thanks for sharing your perspective ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Karen5Lund Karen E. Lund

    I, too, opted out of Klout, although much more recently than Sam. Perhaps I should be shocked, saddened, outraged… Nah, it’s barely surprising. We are “dark matter,” the background stuff of the universe, and Klout seeks us out like a version of JPL with dollar signs where their pocket protectors ought to be.

    Once upon a time the term “influence peddling” meant something unethical and possibly illegal. Now it’s a business model. Sigh!

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Hi Karen – Thanks for the comments. Sadly, I think we have entered a moment in the digital realm where the “dark matter” really has gone dark – we don’t know where it is, who is using it or to what means. Time, perhaps, to exert a bit of influence and see if we can’t place a bit more control of our own data back in our own hands. Yes, we have been willing to “give it away” in exchange for free services (Google = example #1), but I don’t think we ever imagined how it would be corrupted after the fact. To quote you… “Sigh!”

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  • http://twitter.com/jolewitz Joseph Olewitz

    Thanks
    Fred,

    Your post is deep and clear, and the two don’t always go well
    together.

    About a year ago, in a similar situation myself, I was discussing “digital” with a VP at a large
    Agency who said to the Agency President sitting across the table: “Joseph’s
    Klout score is higher than yours.” Go ahead, imagine what impact that had! ???

    I opted out of Klout a few days after Sam – immediately after some
    Twitter posts we exchanged on #bizforum, the weekly Sensei Marketing Twitter
    Chat. Though describing his own thinking, Sam was also being articulate about how I felt, and when I saw my thoughts in his words I was compelled to act by dropping out.

    My opt-out was principally generated by my belief that Klout was recognizing frequency
    and popularity more than “influence.” And, learning that there is or may be a shadow @jolewitz is kinda scary.

    Yes, this post piqued my interest in what people see when they go on the Klout site
    and check for my score. However, as Jan said above, I would have had to re-up to
    see if (& how) I was referenced.

    From Sam’s story we know how it affected someone with a high score – but how does Klout affect others all across the Social Media spectrum?

    JOSEPH

    • http://fredmcclimans.com/ Fred McClimans

      Joseph – That is an amazing story. If the statement was said from a serious perspective, it shows just how much many have overblown, or misinterpreted, the value of systems that try to measure any type of influence, let alone one which is based on limited social activity.

      While I do feel that gaining a much better understanding of “influence” (especially in the cross digital/analog world) is necessary, I also believe that we need to recognize that this is still such a new world that we don’t really understand all the questions, let alone the answers. And like you, I’m very intrigued at what happens when you “erase” a person (and their influence) from a closed system.

      To be honest, I don’t believe that you can accurately state the influence of a person, or the influence that others have on them, without taking ALL of their potential influencers into account. To do so would be somewhat like predicting the orbit of Jupiter if we eliminated Saturn from the equation.

      Thanks again for your feedback and perspective!

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