Tag: Google

Changing Analytics

Since the announcement of content blockers in iOS 9, many have speculated what impact it would have on ads on the web as well as the tracking of users that has been present on the web for the last decade and a half.

Most content blocker on iOS will block a significant portion of third-party content. This could be a javascript library like jQuery, web fonts, social sharing plugins, or even images. Third-party content is any content that is not natively hosted by the site that a user is visiting.

One of the primary functions for loading third-party content are analytic, and tracking, sites. These analytics engines, while performing analytics for the site, also gather information about the users. The information gathered by these analytics firms include things that users would expect, like the HTTP request, the user’s IP Address, and web browser. However, what analytic firms also collect include screen resolution and many other items. This is done via a tracking cookie.

The issue with this setup is that if many sites use the same centrally-hosted analytics engine, that analytics site can correlate, through the tracking cookie, all of the information about that individual and create a full picture of the user. This could be more than just which sites are visited, but what links are clicked on, which ads have been seen and any number of other measurements. Many of these analytics site are ones that provide free services. When this occurs, the visitors of the sites that have opted to use the analytics engine become the product.

One of the problems on the web is that if people have resigned themselves that ads are inevitable, they do so in hopes of being served relevant ads. Yet, in order to get the relevant ads users must be tracked. The problem, for many, is not that users are being tracked but the fact that information that is tracked is being sold to advertisers. An additional problem is that it only takes a small amount of information to truly be able to uniquely identify someone. If it were only the websites doing the tracking, many individuals would not have a problem with this arrangement.

The reason that most would not have a problem with this arrangement is that when you visit a website, and do not pay for the content on that website, it is understandable that a website would want to know who is visiting the site, as well as keeping some basic information about the individuals who visit the site.

One of the things that I have been pondering, particularly since the iOS 9 content blocker fiasco is what alternatives to Google Analytics there are. I did some searching, tried a couple of different free and open source packages, and ultimately I have decided on trying out Open Web Analytics.

Open Web Analytics will work as a standalone product or as a plugin for WordPress. With Open Analytics, none of the information leaves the site where the product is installed. It is not sent off to third-party aggregation sites where it will be analyzed. Since Sunday morning I have been running both Open Web Analytics and Google Analytics. I am running both in tandem to be able to to see how close the two are in relation to number of visitors, and individual page counts. It will likely not be long before I decide to turn off Google Analytics entirely.

There area a myriad of reasons behind this change. The first is that I cannot, in good conscience, allow readers of my site to be unwillingly forced to use Google Analytics and be subjected to unnecessary third-party tracking and aggregation. While yes, the content is free, it still does not feel right to have visitors be tracked in this manner.

The second is the speed of the site. With any third-party loading of content, inevitably the site is slowed, even if it is just milliseconds, it is slowness. I would like to have a responsive website, in both styling as well as load times. The best way to do this is to eliminate as much of the third-party items that load on a site.

It may be that I am an idealist, but I would like to think that more independent websites would choose to run their own analytics. I know it is not possible for all sites to do so, but it would be nice to see this change occur on those that can.

I would think that if enough sites opted out of using Google and other analytics aggregators, that maybe these companies would start realizing that users are not satisfied with the current state of tracking and change their practices. Particularly in Google’s case, if ad revenue starts to take a major hit due to content blockers, it may open their eyes a bit. Sadly, I am not optimistic that this will help in any meaningful way.

Web Advertising Issues

Back in December of 2013, I wrote on The Tech Scoop about a debacle I had with Google Adsense. To summarize the issue, a couple family members clicked on a few ads, and Google thought this was fraud and thus violated Google’s terms of service. So, they blocked my account.

After filling out their appeal form indicating what happened, and being completely truthful, Google decided that I did not do enough to “mitigate the issue” and permanently banned my account from the Google Adsense program. Being banned from Google Adsense has some other ramifications. One of those is that since that account was disabled, I cannot monetize any of my YouTube Videos. I only found out this latter fact yesterday when I was uploading a video and looked into possibly adding ads to them.

Similarly, with all of the talk about iOS content blockers and the state of advertising on the web, I have been thinking about the issues with web advertising. Besides the increase in the number of ads, ads that take over an entire page, and even interstitial ads, and the horrible tracking. There is another issue that I have been thinking about, and one that has not been mentioned in what I have read. That issue is the lack of alternatives to the big players Google Adsense.

There are a number of other companies that may be available, but these are usually invite only. For sites like mine that do not get a lot of traffic, there really are no other viable alternatives. I looked into Microsoft’s Advertising and applied, but they rejected my applications. There are some companies, like The Deck that do not use advertising to track users across the web.

Instead, they pay up-front for the number of impressions. One this is exhausted, that is it. They only thing they track is the number of impressions. They do not have any personally identifiable information about the users who view the sites on which the ads are shown.

There is a certain segment of the population that is completely against ads. The current wisdom is that approximately 15 percent of web users employ an ad or tracking blocker. However, I do think as though a vast majority of internet users are not opposed to ads, but are opposed to the insidious tracking that has occurred and continues to occur. I, like many, understand that advertising is a necessary fact of the Internet, and society in general.

One of the things that I have not seen is a real alternative to the existing advertising model. What I would like to see is a service that caters to smaller sites. One that does not track its users, and models itself on sites like The Deck, although maybe not necessarily technology focused.

If advertisers are willing to make meaningful changes, something will have to be done in order to allow users to trust advertising companies again. It will be a tough and long road to get advertising aggregators back in the good graces of web users.

Daily Run Down 07/04/2013: Morning Edition

Here is this morning’s Daily Run Down.

Big News

Social Issues/Human Interest

International

Politics

Health

Science/Space

Financial

Gaming

Gadgets

Law

Technology

Internet

Software/Apps

Funny

Chicagoland

Total Number of stories: 26

Look for more news stories this evening.

Daily Run Down 07/02/2013: Evening Edition

Here is this evening’s Daily Run Down.

Recalls

Social Issues/Human Interest

General News

International

Politics

Obits

Health

Science/Space

Financial

Historical

Gaming

Gadgets

Reviews

Law

Technology

Internet

Mobile

Software/Apps

Security

London/Britain/UK

Personal

Odd

Funny

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT CHARLIE

Chicagoland

Total Number of stories: 82

Look for more stories tomorrow.

Daily Run Down 07/01/2013: Evening Edition

Here is this evening’s Daily Run Down.

General News

International

Politics

Health

Science/Space

Financial

Historical

Gaming

Gadgets

Law

Technology

Internet

Mobile

Rumors

Software/Apps

London/Britain/UK

Odd

Funny

Chicagoland

Total Number of stories: 55

Look for more stories tomorrow.