Do you remember the old wisdom “You’re never more than 10 feet from a spider?” That can be kind of creepy if you’re paranoid about spiders. As I type this blog entry, I wonder how many spiders are looking at me right now? After all, this room is more than 10 feet in length!
On the web, you’re never more than a click away from a tracker. I think that it’s an important part of media literacy in the classroom that students know that tracking users and user habits is big advertising business. It’s not necessarily bad – after all advertising pays the bills and makes the free part of the web available to us end users.
Where do you find these trackers?
You might wish to start by taking a look at the “cookies” stored in your web browser’s cache. These things are little bits of code that are deposited when you visit a site. They can let the site know if you’re a new user, a returning user, what your preferences are so that they don’t have to be entered each time you visit the site, etc. It’s a fascinating bit of technology and reading the linked article can be very enlightening to you.
Now, tracking can be done with things other than cookies, but a knowledge of cookies is a good place to start. Now, we all feed into this when we get connected but the concept is good fodder for discussions of issues about tracking and privacy.
So, how do you know? Are you unwittingly contributing to this?
I visited a friend’s blog yesterday. In addition to content that she had written, her blog had all of those decorations that you find on blog sites. Maps of visitors, badges, connections, tags, etc. While the blog itself loaded relatively quickly, the throbber just kept going and going as more of this stuff was accessed and then displayed in the appropriate spot on the page. You’ve probably seen this many times. The page is there but all of this other content has to be accessed from other web sites of varying speeds and so it doesn’t all appear at the same time. Annoying to the reader, but what about the tracking.
In Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, I have installed an extension called Ghostery. When you first install it, it can be quite revealing. As the page loads, a little popup appears to let you know what parts of what it calls the “invisible web” is also loaded. In this case, I was presented with this.
No wonder the page took so long to load! (Read this) Ghostery is a pretty handy resource to have around. In addition to displaying the service that’s doing the tracking, you can click through and get a description of what it really does. For the computer scientist in you, you can even ask to take a look at the actual tracking code to see just what is happening. It’s actually quite fascinating reading for anyone. Just devote a little time to it.
Ghostery does have a feature to defeat this part of the “invisible web”. You’ll still get the list but the ones that are successfully blocked are just crossed out. So, I went back to the site after turning this feature on and now get this.
Interesting. At least, this contributes to the knowing part and I think a good understanding and education for students. How about the other part – are you contributing to this?
Chances are, you are, if you’ve got all of these bells and whistles floating around your website or blog page. It may be time to ask if you really and truly need them.
If so, great. If not, it may be time to do a little house cleaning. I know that I visit blogs for the content and maybe a peek at what you’re bookmarking on Delicious. The other stuff? Not so much.
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