February 1, 2009

Are you being tracked?

I got an email this morning from one of my family members, it was forwarded to them from one of their friends concerned about a part of a very large well known web site tracking users that visit it. Apparently he thinks its an invasion of privacy for them to see what he is doing on their site, and on their affiliate sites.

My thoughts?

The tracking with clearly disclosed in their Terms of Service.  The site offers their services free of charge, and the way they pay for it is they sell advertising on their site and on affiliate sites. In order to sell advertising they need to know what demographic is using their site at the time so they can post the proper advertisement. I think this is fair, and I think they are doing it with a lot of transparency. They do not specify the data they gather, but I can tell you on this site, I track the following data.

  • IP Address - Give me a general idea of where readers are from
  • Time of visit - Doesn't really help me, but is logged by default.
  • Length of visit - Am I providing enough content
  • What pages were visited - what posts are popular
  • Who referred you - Lets me know how you found me (RSS, Google search, link on another page, etc)
  • What was the last page you read before leaving

This is basic info that just about every web site tracks. It helps the publisher know who's reading it, and what they like/dislike. As someone who works as an IT professional, and who takes security very seriously, this doesn't bother me, because I know it is harmless. Now, if a web site dumps a piece of software onto your computer and tracks every web site you go to...then there is a problem.

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