Twitter tracking you via their buttons and widgets

From an email I received from Twitter recently:

Here are some of the main changes to our Privacy Policy, with links for more information:

We've provided more details about the information we collect and how we use it to deliver our services and to improve Twitter. One example: our new tailored suggestions feature, which is based on your recent visits to websites that integrate Twitter buttons or widgets, is an experiment that we're beginning to roll out to some users in a number of countries.

That's despicable. I don't have any social media buttons on my site and I'm now happy I never put them in. I did consider it at one point, but just didn't have the time so left it. Definitely not putting them in now.

What I do use is the "Share Article" functionality built into Squarespace (affiliate link), which doesn't track anything. Hover over the link below this article for an example. It makes it easy to share without tracking you. In fact, the only tag on this site is for Google Analytics and I'm considering removing that as well as Squarespace provides nice analytics out of the box.

If you want to prevent Twitter and anybody else from tracking you and invading your privacy, use Ghostery.

'Action needed' to meet UK's cookie tracking deadline | BBC

The BBC explaining the new cookie laws about to take effect in the UK that essentially it will require all UK sites to:

  • Tell people that the site contains cookies
  • Explain what the cookies are doing
  • Obtain visitors' consent to store a cookie on their device

A live example can be found in the ICO website. It's an interesting approach to privacy concerns and at least it's trying to educate the wider audience as to what's going on without them knowing about it. But I don't think most people will understand this or even want to take the time to understand it. It's just way too geeky for most.

Other interesting bits from the BBC article:

There are on average 14 tracking tools per webpage on the UK's most popular sites, according to a study.

and then

The firm said that 68% of the trackers analysed belonged to third-parties, usually advertisers, rather than the site's owner.

If you use a plugin or browser extension to prevent or block cookies, you'll notice just how many tags are on some sites. They're not always bad though. When advertisers use them to serve more targeted ads, they do serve a purpose. The advertisers gets a better chance of being relevant and the customer gets to see only ads that might be of interest. However, it's when advertisers know too much about you and use this information the wrong way that I see an issue.

Check what Google knows about you with Account Activity

The Official Google Blog on a new feature called Account Activity:

Every day we aim to make technology so simple and intuitive that you stop thinking about it—we want Google to work so well, it just blends into your life. But sometimes it’s helpful to step back and take stock of what you’re doing online.

Account Activity let's you get a glimpse of what Google knows about you.

It would be interesting to get detailed statistics on your personal online activities. After all, Stephen Wolfram, the chief designer of Wolfram Alpha, wrote about his analysis of his own personal data recently and the insights you can get with that sort of information are priceless.

However, as I've written before, I'm slightly paranoid about what Google already knows about me and what advertisers in general know about people. Scary stuff.

Google continues to explain Account Activity:

For example, my most recent Account Activity report told me that I sent 5 percent more email than the previous month and received 3 percent more. An Italian hotel was my top Gmail contact for the month. I conducted 12 percent more Google searches than in the previous month, and my top queries reflected the vacation I was planning: [rome] and [hotel].

You have to turn on web history and pretty much allow Google to track you all over the web. Thanks, but no thanks.

On being tracked by advertising companies

Mat Honan at Gizmodo writing about The Case Against Google:

Google is a fundamentally different company than it has been in the past. Its culture and direction have changed radically in the past 18 months. It is trying to maneuver into position to operate in a post-pc, post-Web world, reacting to what it perceives as threats, and moving to where it thinks the puck will be.

This is precisely why Google joined the EULA and privacy policies of all its services, so it can track everything about you and serve you advertising for the benefit of Google's clients. Not your benefit, you're their product. You don't pay to use their services. Advertisers pay. They are Google's client.

It's not just Google though. The Internet is swarming with companies who's business models depend on tracking you. Many already know too much about you as it is. But Google is definitely the big one.

Mat Honan's article is worth a read if you're interested in this stuff. You should be.

This is how to write a privacy policy

500px is an awesome site which they describe as:

500px is a photo community powered by creative people worldwide that lets you discover, share, buy and sell inspiring photographs.

Not only is 500px a great site, but their privacy policy and Terms and Conditions pages are as customer friendly as it gets. If only every site was as clear and concise.

By the way, my personal 500px page is here

Browser extensions to prevent Google (and others) from tracking you

Online privacy is one of those things few people understand. Things change too quickly due to technology or the policies of businesses we interact with (Google and Facebook are good examples), so people tend to ignore the issue hoping everything will be alright.

However, once you realise that advertisers know way too much about you, you do become paranoid. I know I am.

For those of us on the paranoid camp, there are a few extensions and plugins that help prevent companies and advertisers, from tracking you.

I use Ghostery and it works well. It's available for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer. If you use Safari, it's available in Apple's Safari Extensions Gallery.

Another option I just came across in an article in Macworld is Do Not Track Plus. I haven't used this one, but it looks good.

I suggest you do a bit of research on the topic of online privacy and take it seriously.