Block the tracers, regain your privacy

Some time back, a marketing guy I worked with told me about ClickTale, an Israeli company that provides you with this snippet of JavaScript that you can install on any website that allows you to track your user’s activities. Let me emphasize that it’s not just seeing something like, “Oh they came in through Subpage 23A, then went to the home page, then left.” which may seem invasive, but is something I don’t have such a problem with as it helps you to make a site better. Admittedly, users should probably be made aware of this, but given the fact that every site out there tracks user traffic these days, it seems the cow has long been let out of the proverbial barn on that one.
No, ClickTale allows you to actually see what your users are actually doing. It pulls up your actual site and you can see where their mouse goes, what they click on, what they type in to fields, how long it takes them to react, etc. While you don’t know their name, you do know their unique IP on the web, which browser they’re using, what country, and even what city they’re coming from. Yes, it is very Big Brother. At first, I thought it was cool and then I realized that it’s actually quite ucky, especially as no end user is ever told about how deeply they’re being monitored on a website. By the way, I do track statistics here, but it’s mostly to see how many people visit and not much else. ClickTale is something I’ve long abandoned and never plan to return to.
So, it was with great annoyance that I found out that my main local news source, SFGate is using something similar called Tynt Tracer. I can understand why they’d do it as this service tells you whenever someone has copied content from your website. In their case, I assume it’s because they’ll want to sue anyone who uses more then two sentences of it somewhere. It’s really quite dumb as those who are stealing their pages are using what are called “page scrapers”. These are automated. They leave no trace they were at your site other than an IP address hit in your logs. They also don’t load JavaScript which is what this Tynt system is using.
So really, what SFGate is doing is just seeing what people copied out. I don’t know why they’re doing it, but it makes me really uneasy. It’s absolutely none of their damned business if I copy a name from an article and search for it on Google to find out more about the person. Sure, it may help them refine their business, but I really don’t care. Pay for focus groups. Don’t spy on me without telling.
Since I am a web developer, I’ll let you know that it happens to be quite easy to deactivate this Tynt system or their Tracer.js. First, use Firefox. Next, install the AdBlocker Add-on. Open up the Preferences in AdBlocker and click Add a Rule to block. Put in * and click OK. That’s it. You’re done. No more snooping on you because really, they’ve got oodles of other systems in place to track your general usage stats and I don’t have a problem with those. It’s ones like this where I draw the line. And oh yeah, blocking that script will block it on any other site that’s using it as well. So neener neener.
Block the tracers, regain your privacy