The Industry

Klout Is Shutting Down Just In Time to Not Reveal How Much It Knew About Us

A young Caucasian man holds a name tag that says, "I am Influencer."
Klout tried to quantify people’s value based on their social media followings. nito100/Thinkstock

Remember Klout? Well, now you can forget about it again. Just don’t expect its parent company to forget anything about you.

The service, which measured online influence and assigned people a zero-to-100 score based on their social media followings, will shut down on May 25, its parent company announced Thursday. Everyone’s Klout scores will go away, and with them, any remaining chance that businesses will treat us better or worse based on those scores. But the data Klout gathered from people presumably lives on.

Lithium Technologies, the social-media marketing company that bought Klout in 2014, implied in its announcement that it has integrated Klout’s software and data into its own products. “The Klout acquisition provided Lithium with valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities, but Klout as a standalone service is not aligned with our long-term strategy,” Lithium CEO Pete Hess wrote in an email to customers.

The news that Klout is dying will shock only those who had assumed it died long ago. Writing in Slate, Jon Nathanson declared it “basically dead” way back in 2014. While Nathanson sympathized with some of the company’s stated goals, such as differentiating real people from bots and trolls on social media platforms, he wrote that the company went about it all wrong. Its overly reductive Klout scores begged to be gamed, abused, and ultimately mocked. Nathanson wrote: “Klout’s existence defeats its purpose.”

In its heyday, circa 2012, Klout-score humblebrags were de rigeur among a certain set—those that the Twitter parodist Rurik Bradbury called “thinkfluencers.” As investor Hunter Walk points out, it was in some ways a more innocent time on social media, when the debate over “world’s most influential person” revolved around Barack Obama and Justin Beiber. (In August 2012, Klout changed its algorithm to make sure Obama’s score would be higher.)

Ironically, something like a Klout score might be more useful now than it was back when people actually used Klout. No one wants their worth as a human reduced to a single number, of course. But algorithms that can effectively distinguish legitimate sources of original information from, say, Kremlin-backed troll accounts, could come in handy on a site such as Twitter. For better or worse, Klout bungled that project so badly, with its inane scoring system, that no company wants to build “the next Klout.”

That might not be its only unsavory legacy. Privacy wonks were quick to note that Lithium is shutting down Klout on the same day that Europe’s big privacy law takes force. This suggests that the company really doesn’t want to have to disclose what kind of data Klout had collected and where that all went.

A Lithium spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation “expedited our plans to sunset Klout.”

Like other social apps of its era, Klout asked users to grant all sorts of permissions to mine their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Its demise is a stark reminder that, even if you trust a third-party app with your data in the short term, you never know what will happen to it down the road.

If there’s one encouraging lesson to take from Klout’s rise and fall, it’s that maybe there really is a limit to just how blatantly Silicon Valley startups can dehumanize people without becoming a laughingstock themselves. Like Google Glass, which launched in 2013, Klout scores combined elitism with technological arrogance in a way that elicited resentment and even disgust from many people, especially those who weren’t in a position to benefit from them. Good riddance to Klout—and to the brief, giddy reign of the thinkfluencers whose value it tried to quantify.