Sunday, August 21, 2011

Viz: What online marketers know about you

Spy on you !
The study conducted by Wall  Street Journal by selecting the 50 most visited U.S. websites reveals that marketers are spying on Internet users.

When every user logs onto the internet to visit one of their favorite websites, he/she triggers hundreds of electronic tracker files like cookies, beacon , flash cookies etc which send information about the user to the companies.

Please find the link to the visualization here.

In the image the top half depicts Websites and bottom half represents tracking companies. When rolled over a website , lines come out of the website which connects to the tracking companies which collects information about users. Similarly if rolled over the tracking company it will show which all websites are tracked by them. The color codes in the lines says if it is  first-party tracker files (yellow) or Third party tracker files ( variations in blue for cookies, beacons and flash cookies). The color code (variations of red) on the companies shows the exposure index which is the sum of scores of cookies, beacons and flash cookies.

If focused on a specific company it will give a detailed description and score of the company which is calculated based on  : whether the site belongs to an industry self-regulating group; whether it lets users opt out of receiving cookies; whether it is part of an advertising or tracking network; whether it shares data it collects with others; whether it promises to keep user data anonymous; how long it retains user data; and how it handles sensitive data such as financial or health information. The example on says that it has more number of trackers. Click Here

This spying can be very useful if used for good reasons such as to improve our browser experience. It will result in a better consumer environment. Since this visualization gives a detailed idea about how exposed we are we can opt out or opt in for this tracking according to the privacy we wish to achieve.

The methodology followed to generate this visualization by Ashkan Soltani   technology consultant who was hired by  Wall Street Journal is an interesting read.