Yogi Berra once said something like “you can observe a lot just by watching.” I recently added Ghostery (highly recommended) to see what information websites were collecting. What I observed was shocking, shameful and something that’s so out-of-control that even our Congress will feel compelled to step in.
We’ll blame the upcoming draconian privacy legislation on privacy zealots, the EU, plaintiff’s attorneys, the FCC or maybe aliens. Basically everybody but ourselves, the publishers and advertisers who’ve gone over the top in our shameless attempts to “monetize” our traffic.
I like Ghostery because it pops a little window in my Safari browser at the upper right and tells me what tracking products are watching what I’m doing. I happened to notice this on the home page of The New York Times the other day:
Six different services used by the Times. That got me thinking and wondering how many other services reputable publishers were using so I tried a few others:
CNN used nine services, including one that got hidden by their aggressive use of a Sprint Flash ad to “monetize” me. (Didn’t work.)
Let’s go downmarket to see Perez Hilton:
Yikes! 15 different services. Now, all of these aren’t scary, nor do they necessarily share any of my information with other companies. But are you really sure?
And now, for the win:
24 different things tracking what I’m doing! I guess that target demographic of TMZ visitors must be very interesting to advertisers!
Or, is it a desperate attempt by TMZ to squeeze every dime out of every pageview, so much that they’re willing to pimp out their visitors and their information?
So what are all these sites doing with the information they are gathering? I’m not certain that any one person at any of the publishers above can tell you why each of those tracking tools is on the site. I’ll bet a lot of the data (I won’t use the word “information” for the useless spew these publishers are getting) goes unused or straight to the bit bucket.
And that’s the sad thing. I learned back in the old days to question why I wanted to collect data. Storage used to cost money, excess data was an expense and too much data–untransformed into information–was actually toxic to you making decisions.
A lot of the data being collected probably isn’t being used, the publishers won’t be able to really explain why they’re doing it, other than “we collected it because we could and we really don’t do anything with it” and isn’t even using it.
Sounds like great testimony before some Congressional subcommittee, some of whom even know the Internet is like a set of tubes. A recipe for great rulemaking!
Takeaway: Publishers and advertisers are getting greedy with what they’re collecting, doing it in a spooky way and won’t be able to explain why they’re doing it when questioned. We should not be surprised when we get heavily regulated.