A couple of days ago, I saw a retweet from a colleague who focuses on the negative educational things online about a new post from Audrey Watters “(Why) Does Your Education Website Collect Information about Visitors?“. I read her article and, as usual, it’s well crafted and raises good issues along with concrete examples. She does her homework.
I guess I share a bit of her carefulness with my own habits.
I use many of the same tools except that I use Ghostery instead of Privacy Badger in an attempt, I guess, to keep my browser from full speed. I use Lightbeam and check it periodically just to visualize the connected world in which I walk around kind of aimlessly at times.
So, I thought, he’s probably made his blog squeaky clean as a result of reading Ms. Watters’ post.
Well, not really. According to Ghostery, there were 10 trackers that it blogged. After typing that sentence, I went back just to make sure that I had the number correct and it was up to 11. Interesting.
Of course, pointing fingers only counts when you point at yourself so I looked at this blog. The results were a little different because I had whitelisted this site. I actually remember when I did it. I wanted to confirm that the Twitter button was working and so I whitelisted it to be sure and then just never turned the feature off. Ghostery reports 5 trackers.
So, I scanned the list and wasn’t surprised with what I had seen. In my mind, I knew the rationale – the Twitter button so that people could follow me; the Twitter list and Diigo list showing my interactions which may be more interesting than the actual content of the blog; Revolver maps just because I like the cool little map and the list of recent visitors. It’s there to feed the narcissist in me. But, if you ever want Exhibit A for a utility that knows where you are, this is it. It even plots your login location. Aside from all that, it’s a great utility to talk about IP addresses and location with students. Then, there’s that graphic for Ontario Edubloggers. What’s going on with that? What information is being collected behind that? (Nothing I can assure you – I personally made it as an image) The content that is there is designed to make whatever I do easy to access.
Is there a call to action from this exercise? Would clearing off all that make for a better experience? Is it the noble thing to do?
It certainly would make loading the page a bit quicker!
I flipped to the Admin panel on WordPress. It collects and displays a rich summary of activity to the website, including maps… Here’s today’s visitors.
But that’s only the end website we’re talking about. How about your browser? After all, Internet Explorer is written by a huge corporation that stays in business by selling things. Chrome is written by an equally as big corporation that makes money selling advertising. Now, I’m not selling anything here except ideas. In the original article, Ms. Watters points to a blog that does sell advertising. Those advertising pieces are really intrusive and annoying. I do like the fact that the addons that I do use blog them from ever appearing. When you have slow internet access, you really appreciate it.
It’s a tough call. It would be easy to say “get rid of it”. Thinking it through though, it just gets rid of the outwardly visible. If you’ve messed around with analytics, you know that you can minimize them to a single pixel on the screen so that nobody would see it. I keep going back to the Lightbeam graphic. It would be like closing the barn door after the cows are loose. We’re well done this path. Even if a single site stopped it, what about the rest? And, would it be the end of the world if some advertiser knew that I was reading Ms. Watters’ content? I guess they’d know I was much smarter after every visit.
As I dug into the analytics even further, I realize that there are far more people following the blog through email and other methods than that physically visit anyway. Does their email program know what they’re doing?
Where does it all end? I know my dog’s answer about shutting down and going for a walk is his answer to everything. Perhaps he’s right.