You are here:
  1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. Interwebs
  4. Ethics of Stats Tracking

Ethics of Stats Tracking

 |  Interwebs

I was recommending Mint recently as an excellent way of keeping an eye on click-through, a good way to find out exactly where visitors are going, how they’re getting in (whether through a link, Google search), etc.. and I was asked the question “is it legal?”

Now I believe everyone who uses the Internet probably has an idea that they can be traced to some degree… but the question made me realise that perhaps there are a lot of people who don’t realise the exact hows, whys and whats. If people are so oblivious to this kind of watching, does it pose an ethical dilemma? Should we accept that hey, big brother is out there, and force people to get over it… or, should we as stats-tracking webmasters let people know that their movements are monitored?

Do you use extensive trackers like Mint, and if so, have you ever considered how your visitors feel about being watched so intensively? As a blog visitor, how do you feel knowing that I (and other site owners) can see — basically — where you are at any given moment? I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this :)

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

38 comments so far

  1. Jenny said:

    I have ‘Live’ a plug-in for WordPress which is well, that. Live. It’s all AJAX-y, too, so I don’t know, say if my Live window was open and you pressed a link to my site (say from jemjabella.co.uk) it would come up ‘live’, it would tell you where it links too from my website (ie. a post/page/comment), the dates/times, the referrer and the IP. I guess, in some way that’s kind of like.. Big Brother-ish. Minus the cameras. I don’t know, I guess. I mean, I’ve actually wanted to invest into a proxy at one point (that doesn’t read right o_O) because of the whole IPish thing. :P I’m not exactly “wary” of being traced and what have you through the internet (being traced ‘in real life’ is a completely different matter, obviously). That being said.. I’m quite curious and nosy as to where and when my visitors come to my site. Then again, ‘Live’ isn’t exactly up to ‘Mint’ conditions. ;)

  2. Amelie said:

    As you know, I use Mint. However, the beauty of Mint is that it won’t work if you [stfu Amelie, don’t give away that info]. I know quite a few of my visitors don’t have JS enabled because they don’t show up in Mint, and I’m fine with that. I use Mint as a guide to see where the most popular sections of my site are, what search engine terms are bringing people to my site, and what pages show up in those searches. I also use it to see how many downloads my scripts get :) Other than that, I monitor the referrers and general hits, not much else.

  3. Lew said:

    It’s interesting you raise this today as I just started work yesterday on a stats tracking system for a client, written in PHP with a bit of JS. Frankly ignorance is no defence. There is a lot of information sent in an HTTP header and if a website wants to use this information, then why not. It’s there, it’s not encrypted, it’s not particularly personal. If it helps the managers and developers create more user-centric sites then I’m all for it. Targeted advertising is nothing new, and we can all learn to ignore that!

  4. Mary said:

    That’s an interesting point. I never knew trackers could do stuff like that. It seems a bit stalker-ish to me, though – I would feel better if a webmaster who did that type of thing put a little notice on the side or something like that.

  5. Josh said:

    Sometimes when I’m browsing a site, I’ll feel kind of weird knowing that they know what I’m clicking and what I’m doing. And since I’ve most likely commented, they can link my IP address to my site and name and email. But, usually, I don’t really mind. If I cared enough, I’d just disable JS, so that I can’t be tracked by most things. :P On a side note: I hope to one day watch my visitors’ every move with Mint, or something of those or better standards.

  6. Holly said:

    Personally, it doesn’t bother me that the site owner can see where I go on their site, as someone has already suggested, it’s helpful for the owner to know what’s the most popular part of their site, so that’s fine. I don’t see it as being unethical so long as it’s done for honest reason.s I don’t track my own site stats though, I’ve never really bothered, though, perhaps I should, it might be helpful.

  7. Aithnea said:

    As a visitor I kind of except that the webmasters/mistresses out there are keeping track on either or not I come to their site. It wasn’t until I started keeping my own site and keeping track of my stats that I realized you could tell where people came from! I just use the little stat tracker that my web host has. Honestly I think most people kind of except that at least some of their web activities are being monitored.

  8. Jenny said:

    I’ve always thought that all’s fair in website stat tracking. When you browse the internet you are requesting files from someone else’s computer, and they have the right to do whatever they want with those files and the information gathered when you request them (IP address to geographic location, language headers, tracking sessions, referrers if they are not blocked, etc). I definitely use my stats to improve website useability. If I see a lot of people searching for ‘2008 Conference’ in the internal site search, I try to add some information about that. And I just found out that a good 35% of people are coming from non-English-speaking countries, so I may start working on some internationalization features. But at the same time, I would guess that your average internet user is not aware of how much information that amounts to or that it’s even being tracked. I’ve been after my boss to write a privacy policy for the site I work on, mostly to be clear about our policy on providing membership records to third parties — something I am not even clear on myself, but it will also include some details on website usage tracking. I agree with Lew that it’s perfectly fair *not* to tell users about stat tracking and expect them to be savvy, but I think a greater degree of transparency is better for user trust. (And I have this evangelic mission to educate our particular very non-technical user-base in the ways of the interwebs!)

  9. Kenna said:

    Honestly, I expect webmasters to track my activity on their sites. Used properly, it brings a better internet experience for all. I actually consider it neglectful when a webmaster ignores statistics or doesn’t track any activity on their sites, because then how do they know what their visitors really want? A very small percentage of visitors actually give feedback, comment on blogs, guestbooks, etc., so you have no feedback without statistics or tracking. Maybe that’s the webmistress in me talking, but I’ve always felt that way as long as I can remember.

  10. Hillarie said:

    When you put some thought into it, wouldn’t you consider stats tracking a security camera for your site? It’s something that shouldn’t be questioned, it’s more than ethical, it’s expected. I don’t have any fancy stats tracking, but I have gotten some useful information about my site, like who’s linking me.

  11. Stephanie said:

    I personally don’t use any sort of stat tracking at all because I found that I rarely looked at it, and was generally not interested in it. If you want my opinion, stat tracking is ethical if and only if it protects a user’s privacy. Users can be tracked, but a webmaster shouldn’t see their IP address. Then there’s always the case that even if you do know a visitor’s IP address, you still have no idea who they are and they are still essentially anonymous. It’s completely your call. Make the decision based on how you conscience feels.

  12. Chrissy said:

    We only use SlimStat on KB. Just something to monitor how many visitors we receive, who links us, and what keyword/search terms people are using to find us. Anything more than that is unneeded, in my opinion. Not only is it a huge waste, but I respect my visitors too much to monitor their every single move. I expect to be tracked these days, but it doesn’t mean I have to be a huge, paranoid douche and do the same to others.

  13. Maggie said:

    It doesn’t bother me any. Its not like I’m running around trying to do something malicious. The webmaster owns the space I think they should be able to do with it what they want. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.

  14. Mumblies said:

    From my point of view, and i freely admit to knowing practically nothing about computers other than the most basic of skills, I really couldn’t care less if my movements are tracked and agree with Maggie. I am fully aware that with today’s cctv and suchlikes that we are far more “monitored” than perhaps most of us know. I tend to be in the “I’m not doing anything wrong ergo have nothing to hide” category :o)

  15. Tiddley said:

    Where am I? I’m… BEHIND YOU! … Nah, I don’t mind the whole watching thing. As long as you didn’t follow me around *everywhere*. ^_^ I mean, I like showering in private thanks.

  16. Arien said:

    I don’t really mind if you know where I’m clicking on your site. I suppose to me it just means you know what I, personaly, enjoy about your site so in the future you can basicly continue to add to that content to make it all the more enjoyable for me, your visitor. If that’s the aim of your site that is. Maybe it’s also a way for you to tell who your web stalker(s) may be. In short, I don’t care if you post a notice or not. I’m not one of those people out there that aren’t aware of the fact you can do such things, what with all the spyware being shouted about the net.

  17. Vixx said:

    I’ve never thought of this, but I think it does indeed impose some interesting questions. It’s certainly something I’m going to think very carefully about. Thanks for making me think so early in the day! V xx

  18. Rhys said:

    Good question! I dunno what I’d do without my stats package, I love it! Plus I kinda don’t mind being tracked, particularly if I click on a link from another site that goes through to the target site, I feel it builds communities (say – for example – I link to a big blog, I always click from that link to that blog in the vain hope they are as curious as I am and think “hmm….I wonder who that blogger is, and why are they linking to me?”). Long may stalking continue!

  19. Belinda said:

    I think that anonymity is still retained even if you get tracked. Stats show how people get to your site, what search terms they used, who linked you etc… but it doesn’t identify the person who clicked on it. People have gotten to my site looking for catwoman porn, pokemon smut fics, etc but I don’t know who they are. IP tracking is a whole different ballgame I suppose, but I have trouble figuring out who’s IP is who unless I know somehow beforehand an identified person and their IP. For the vast majority of people who stumble onto my site, that’ll never happen.

  20. Rachael said:

    Haha, if you’re bored enough to go through and look at what I click on on your site… that’s fine by me! ^_^ I don’t have anything to hide.

  21. Chans said:

    if it gets to a point where you can still track what a visitor did three days back than that’s just wrong and has nothing to do with site stats but with tracking people. however, if you just see where your visitor came from or where they exited your site and things like that it’s just part of stats and I can’t see that as a problem. I think users should be more worried about Microsoft (for instance) putting things in their updates that allows them to see if software is legitimate, and block things if they don’t feel it’s appropriate or good enough for Microsoft, than worry about site stats.

  22. Angela said:

    I don’t really think it brings a moral dilemma. Nor should we have to tell them. I see it as a guest being in my house. I’m not going to let said guest run about my house without being monitored to some extent. Do I tell them that? No, but it’s probably to be expected. Either way in the end monitoring and being monitored doesn’t really bother me.

  23. Lemm said:

    I like to know what people are searching for, and how they got to my site…how much (or less) traffic I’m getting. That’s about it really. I get some very strange search inquiries sometimes o O.

  24. Melissa said:

    I use Mint! I did think about that after I first purchased it…because I never knew that you could track clicks until I learned about that software. Sure it sort of freaked me out a tiny bit in the beginning because I’d never thought of all that before. But seriously, it isn’t just Mint that can do that. I bet there are a ton of “big name” websites out there that use powerful statistics trackers that do all of that and more. It’s not like we’re recording credit card numbers here, lol! If people get so concerned about their privacy like that, they shouldn’t be browsing the internet, which is a broad statement, but true nonetheless.

  25. Tish said:

    I love my stats – I like spying on people :P I have pretty basic information, like referrals and search terms, and what my popular pages are, so nothing too intrustive. I’d love to get Mint though, since the more information I can collect, the better. I don’t mind being spyed on unless it involves cameras and microphones. But the internet isn’t really as safe as people would like to believe anyway. People don’t have as much privacy as they think :P

  26. Carly said:

    I’ve got nothing to hide! I don’t mind if you can see what/where I’m clicking! At the end of the day, it’s a good way to find out patterns, or trends if you will!

  27. Shannon said:

    As a site visitor it does make me kind of nervous. For example with sites that tend to be updated a lot, I used to check them many times a day. I don’t do that as much anymore now that it seems like so many people are tracking visitors like crazy. People seem a bit more paranoid about online theft lately as well, and I don’t want people getting nervous about me visiting their site 5 times in 12 hours. So from a visitor’s standpoint, I definitely see the value of it for the site owner, although I do feel a little creeped out by it and I’ve changed my internet browsing habits as I’ve seen the tracking trend grow.

  28. Cristina said:

    I always figured that being tracked when browsing the Internet is pretty much a given. Monitoring people that visit your site is not only a good way to improve your site, but it also helps when it comes to people that are being little thieves. If stats allow you to figure out how people are taking things (like source code, etc.) then good! And as someone said above, stats are like security cameras for web pages. They’re their for a reason. As a site visitor, I don’t mind being tracked because as far as I am concerned it keeps me innocent. If you have nothing to hide and are not doing anything you aren’t suppose to be doing, then you have nothing to worry about.

  29. Vera said:

    I use statcounter, which offers quite a bit of information, unfortunately since it’s free, it shows me only the last 100 unique hits. I don’t consider it violation, since I almost never even look at the country (unless it’s from Romania :P ), and am just curious how long people stay at my site, where do they come from and what pages they like. Starting from that I can improve my site (mainly by deleting useless pages). Up until now, aside the main page, quite a few people check out my facts page. I believe that most webmasters use their statistics similarly, so I’m alright with it.

  30. Jordan said:

    In regards to Chrissy’s comment, what does respecting your visitors have to do with wanting to see intricate statistics in regards to your website? It’s not being paranoid, or a “douche” when you want to see this information. You speak as if though it’s something horribly wrong, abusive and abusive. Come on now, that’s absurd to think that if people want to know what pages you viewed, or what you clicked on the site, it’s because that person isn’t being paranoid. When I want to see this information it helps me to see exactly what content they go to the most and weed out what people are’t interested in. I get to see what visitors enjoy the most. Yes, it’s my personal site, but guess what, I make it for other people to see. Apparently that makes me a paranoid douche with your logic. Good thing I don’t share that logic.

  31. Aaron said:

    I actually don’t mind. It seems to be a very useful tool for website owners. Besides, it’s only on your website. It’s not like you’re tracking every website I visit on the internet, which would actually bother me.

  32. Chrissy said:

    In regards to Chrissy’s comment, what does respecting your visitors have to do with wanting to see intricate statistics in regards to your website? I don’t feel the need to track a visitor’s every single little step on my website? It seems quite paranoid for someone to want to know who is going where and when in such vivid detail. If that’s your kind of thing, hey, do it. Track everyone as intricately as you like. I choose not to do it because I’m not that interested in very intricate details that don’t really matter. I was previously using StatCounter and even that gave too much detail. It made me uncomfortable to spy on my visitors like that. Maybe paranoid isn’t the right word. I guess you can substitute it for “obsessive.”

Follow on Instagram