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Web Analytics - Tracking Website Visitors is democratic.


Who is watching you?

Who's against video surveillance?

When you walk in to a store, there's a good chance you are being video taped. We accept that stores will have "security cameras".

Many of us, including me, would consider that to be an encroachment on, if not an invasion of, our privacy—if we were even aware of being taped at all. They record our likeness (even on bad hair days) purchased items and those we merely looked at, the time and duration of visit and the people we were with.

Generally, the purpose of walking into a store is to make or consider making a purchase, to the direct financial benefit of the store owner. The personal benefit of increased security that video surveillance affords us exists. However, to amount to much, it needs to be ubiquitous.

Some of us, including me, would consider a level of surveillance to be a reasonable balance between security and privacy. Before you hasten to disagree, answer this question:

Do you protest every time a would-be shopper makes the news, identified from video footage as the thug who shot the store attendant?

In contrast, on the Internet even the most innocuous accumulation of anonymous, aggregated data is considered an unreasonable invasion of our privacy.


You want to just sneak in and out without even saying "Hi!" do you?

We will visit a site to selfishly extract the information or pleasure we desire and leave, affording little or no benefit, financial or otherwise, to the site owner. We then go even further, expecting the site owner should not even know that "someone" was there.

What data is actually reported to the site owner? That depends on the Web Analytics tool(s) used for measuring his site's performance. Most tools report by pages or by visitors & visits.

Page view statistics include the number of times each page :
  • was viewed,
  • brought visitors to the site (an "entry" or "landing" page),
  • was the last page viewed before the visitor left (an "exit" page),
  • was the only page viewed (the dreaded "bounce" visit)
Visitor statistics include:
  • total number of visitors,
  • total number of visits,
  • average visit duration.
  • broken down by:

  • location (down to the city level),
  • the hour of the visits, visitor type (new or returning),
  • the ordinal number of visit (how many 1st time visitors, 2nd time, etc) and
  • when last the visitor was there.

Note that this reporting is only at the aggregate level. The site owner gets reports on how many visitors - not which visitors - visited from a city; how many visitors visited between 3pm and 4pm; how many visitors viewed the sexy lingerie page, not which visitors.

It's not impossible for the site-owner to find out precisely who visited the sexy lingerie page, but that is not what Web Analytics (WA) is for. Its tools are extremely poor at achieving such a twisted and unusual objective. It also requires some pre-meditation.

Do you know the rules? Some WA tool vendors prohibit getting up close and personal. E.g. Google Analytics Terms of Service regulates the use of GA by site owners and expressly (and clearly) prohibits tracking any form of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). (See Clause 7. PRIVACY). And site owners' attention has been drawn to it: here.

So where is the democracy in all of this...?

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Nice post, Brian!
# Posted By Julien Coquet | 2/25/09 12:35 AM
Interesting post, i like the comparison with the surveillance camera.
# Posted By Paul Bernier | 2/26/09 7:27 AM
Nice analogy Brian

I also use one for Google - that of being like a bank, where information is the currency, as opposed to money:
http://www.advanced-web-metrics.com/blog/2008/03/1...

Its funny but the recent CMS Watch report states that Yahoo is better suited for 'enterprise' web analytics precisely because its data is not aggregated and this is a feature missing from GA.

The truth is, this is a pretty straight forward feature that was beta bested in Urchin on Demand before the Google acquisition (now implemented in Urchin 6). However Google took the positive action of not wishing to go down that invasive tracking route - very laudable. One I wish other vendors would take more seriously.

In terms of other analogies, I use traffic monitoring around schools for differentiating PII and non-PII. If useful to you, its in Chapter 2 of the book.

Best regards, Brian
# Posted By Brian Clifton | 2/26/09 8:29 AM
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