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Tracking the Trackers tutorial at the Digital Methods Summer School 2013

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  • 1. Tracking the Trackers A Digital Methods Summer School 2013 Workshop Anne Helmond (UvA) & Alexei Miagkov (Ghostery)
  • 2. One action, many data points “For every explicit action of a user, there are probably 100+ implicit data points from usage; whether that is a page visit, a scroll etc.” (Berry 2011: 152)
  • 3. Hitting & tracking Every time a web user requests a website, a series of tracking features are enabled.
  • 4. Hitting & tracking Every time a web user requests a website, a series of tracking features are enabled. Workshop objective: Tracking the trackers.
  • 5. Cookies • (HTML) Cookies are a string of text or a unique identifier downloaded to your browser after requesting a website. • Cookies do not share data about the user, but recognise returning visits/requests. • Every time the associated website is visited, information is send to the cookie owner.
  • 6. Cookies • Can be issued by requested website. • But can also come from third party providers: ad companies, analytics services, social media platforms. Multiple purposes • Remember site preferences. • Collect information to enhance usability of site. • Part of secure logins. • User profiling across sites (ad services). • Behavioural targeting. • Additional user data for platform.
  • 7. Cookies & dataflows • Tracking devices enable behavioural targeting. • Not only happen in the back-end, return to users through personalised ads & recommendations.
  • 8. Tracking ecologies • Tracking data is used & re-used by multiple actors. • Profiling, reselling, personalisation, recommendation, behaviour targeting, re-combination... • Profiling machines (Elmer 2004), qualculation (Thrift 2008), de- & recomposition of relations (Mackenzie 2012). • Part of multiple relational databases: Not individual datasets or datapoints matter, but relations created between them (Mackenzie 2012).
  • 9. Cookie auctions & piggybacking • Cookies are not only being used by the services that issues them. • Real-time reselling & cookie auctions for personalised advertising (Borgesius 2012). • Cookies trigger further tracking devices & let them piggyback - websites do not exactly know which services collect data about their visitors.
  • 10. Social media platform cookies • Platform features (Facebook Connect, Twitter Buttons, etc) can place cookies. • Data can be connected to existing user profiles or collected and used upon sign-up. • Facebook: Cookies not used for ads. Twitter: used for ads & recommendations. • All web users are potential platform users & contribute to its data mining practices.
  • 11. Beyond cookies • Flash cookies: Used on Flash websites. • Server logs: Saving requests to the website’s server usually include: IP, date/time, referral page, time spend and pages visited. • Beacons: Small, mostly invisible objects (pixels, bugs) embedded in websites or emails. Enables third parties to identify website requests. Do not place a file on the browser. • Widgets: Small applications that can be implemented and executed on websites, i.e. social media or blog widgets.
  • 12. Tracking blockers Ghostery: Detects and allows to block the invisible web. • Allows to selectively enable/disable cookies, advertising, beacons etc. • Users can opt to contribute to Ghostrank: analytics on the most dominant tracking devices online. • Detecting over 1000 trackers.
  • 13. Visualising trackers Mozilla Collusion: Creates a network of browsed sites and associated tracking services for users in real time while browsing. • Visualises which services are tracking users and how they are connected to other websites visited.
  • 14. Tracking blockers Disconnect.me: Blocks and visualises trackers. Especially disables social widgets and personalised advertising. • Disables Facebook Social Plugins/ recommendation features.
  • 15. Tracking blockers Mozilla Do Not Track: Firefox feature which allows users to tell websites that they want to opt out of third-party tracking services. • Transmits a Do Not Track HTTP whenever data is requested. • Requires tracking services to offer opt out: Works for Twitter, but not for Facebook.
  • 16. Tracking projects & research Tracking the trackers (Guardian): User generated tracking map based on Mozilla Collusion data. • Covers 7000 websites and features insights into the data shared by most prominent tracking services. • Limitations: user generated, random set of URLs.
  • 17. Tracking projects & research Cookie Search Engine (German): Detects first and third party cookies on URLs. • Provides list of cookies, their domain, security options and expiry date.
  • 18. Tracking projects & research Visipisi: Deploys cookies to detect which websites have recently been visited.
  • 19. DMI: Tracker Tracker • Objective: detecting interfaces to the cloud and data-mining features operating in the back-end. • Repurpose analytical capacities of Ghostery to detect presence of tracking devices on websites. • Input list of URL, output: list of trackers & network formatted data.
  • 20. DMI: Tracker Tracker Allows to detect alternative fabric of the web - not organised by mutual linking practices between webmasters, but through the presence of tracking devices.
  • 21. DMI: Tracker Tracker Websites using Facebook Social Plugins and Facebook Connect in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, February 2012
  • 22. DMI: Tracker Tracker Websites using Google Analytics in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, February 2012
  • 23. DMI: Tracker Tracker Presence of Trackers on websites of Dutch political parties, June 2012.
  • 24. Tracking exercise 1. Collect a set of URLs, for instance via www.alexa.com. Use the Link Ripper to extract them. 2. Enter the list into the Tracker Tracker tool (max 100). Settings: Only look at specific pages. 3. Save .gefx file. 4. Open in Gephi, use colour settings to visually distinguish different tracking services.
  • 25. Questions?