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The Scrivener: Targeting You

"While you are reading this, information is being sent from your computer to Google Analytics. That's OK. Open Writing does not carry advertising so you aren't being tracked for your potential buying behaviour but merely for analytical purposes relating to the number of people who visit a particular website,'' writes Brian Barratt in an article which should be read by everyone who surfs the World Wide Web.

While you are reading this, information is being sent from your computer to Google Analytics. That's OK. Open Writing does not carry advertising so you aren't being tracked for your potential buying behaviour but merely for analytical purposes relating to the number of people who visit a particular website.
However, when you view the BBC web site, about 10 invisible links are at work. 4 of them are advertising networks. 6 are collecting statistical information in relation to the page you are looking at.

When you are viewing the front page of The Age, Melbourne's broadsheet newspaper on line, 4 information networks and 5 advertising networks are tracking you. Click to open a current news report about Facebook and, behold, 8 information networks, 5 advertising networks, and 3 social networking trackers are spying on you.

Spying? Yes, that is an overstatement. They aren't really spying but they are certainly recording your presence for statistical purposes. On my own educational website, I have a program called eXTReMe Tracking. It simply records each time someone visits the home page. It tells me which country the person is in, and sometimes the link via which they came to my website. That's useful, because it can help me to find if an educational website has added a link to my website. But I do not know who the visitors are, or their names, or anything about them. They are anonymous. Furthermore, there are no secrets. Anyone can view that information. And it is nothing to do with advertising.

I think I prefer information about my visit to a newspaper page not to be sent back to social networking sites like FaceBook, LinkedIn and TwitterBadge. I do not belong to any of them and nor do I wish to belong, thank you.

I do not want my potential buying interests sent to Nielsen, Dedicated Networks and Eyeblaster. I don't really like being tracked by DoubleClick, Google Adsense, Tynt Tracer, AdMeld, MediaMind, Netratings Site Census and Comscore Beacon, all at the same time.

What the heck does weirdly named Tynt Tracer do? Well, one of its functions is to record all items you copy and paste from a web site. Ad Meld is owned by Google. It offers advertisers 'expertise and technology to help you level the playing field with buyers, sell smarter, and get back to focusing on what you do best—cultivating sustainable relationships with advertisers'. Media Mind provides information about potential customers to large direct mail organisations. EyeBlaster is part of Media Mind.

All this is just part of our lives in the 21st century. There's nothing insidious about it. No need to be paranoid about it. There is no 'conspiracy' at work. If there is an underlying message it seems to be that advertising dominates the way many websites are organised. The statistics collected by these trackers are sold to companies which want to advertise more effectively and in the right places. Profit is the motive.
But why particular websites or pages within them have up to 12 or even 18 trackers simultaneously gathering statistics looks like overkill. Are they all doing what MediaPlex offers?
'— Centralize control and correlation of multi-channel marketing
— Intelligently and reliably serve compelling, relevant ads
— Capture and leverage critical customer insights for highly-targeted real-time campaigns.'

As Miranda said, 'O brave new world, that has such people in't'. And such language, too.

(I wonder if they also secretly track each other so that they can, er, borrow their rivals' information?)

Something else of interest while you are browsing on the Web is the use of cookies. These are very small text files which some websites place on your hard disk. In themselves, they do no harm. When you are browsing through Amazon, for instance, and wish to buy something, a cookie maintains contact between your computer and theirs. It enables a record of your purchase to be kept in their database so that a list of recommended titles of a similar nature can be shown to you next time you visit.

If you do not delete it at the end of a session, a cookie remains active and continues its work. It is easy to delete cookies if you prefer not to have the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that you are being 'spied on'. For instance, if you are using Mozilla Firefox browser, you can set it to delete cookies automatically at the end of your session. You can also use the Norton 360 virus protection facility to find and delete what are called 'tracking cookies'. No doubt other virus protection programs have a similar facility.

There is a useful discussion about cookies and what they do, here:

Incidentally, while you are viewing that page, 6 network links are collecting statistics. They include Yahoo Ad Network and Blue Lithium, which is owned by Yahoo and deals with advertising and 'behavioural targeting'.

Churches no longer organise our way of life. Governments are making a mess of the job. It looks as though the advertising industry is the major influence in this brave new world in which we live, capturing and leveraging critical customer insights aimed at persuading you to BUY.
1: How do I know so much about the tracking networks? How do I stop them from getting into my computer? The efficient, safe and free answer is here:

2: Since writing the above, I have found this report which is well worth reading:

3: New British legislation regarding cookies and client consent:

Copyright Brian Barratt 2012


Do visit Brian's aforementioned educational Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/


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