Tracking the Trackers Workshop: Digital Methods Summer School 2012

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In this short workshop you will learn how to map the cookie ecology related to a set of websites using the DMI Tracker Tracker tool and Gephi. The Tracker Tracker tool was conceived at the Digital Methods Winterschool 2012 in January. It is build on top of the anti-tracking plugin www.ghostery.com and allows to identify the invisible web, devices that track user activities online and the services associated to them. In order to prepare for this workshop we recommend reading the related projects and materials listed below. Please download and install Gephi at https://gephi.org/ before the workshop starts so you can also learn how to visualize your results.

https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/Dmi/WorkshopTrackingtheTrackers

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Tracking the Trackers Workshop: Digital Methods Summer School 2012

  1. 1. Tracking the Trackers A Digital Methods Summer School 2012 Workshop Anne Helmond (UvA) & Carolin Gerlitz (Goldsmiths)
  2. 2. One action, many data points“For every explicit action of a user, there areprobably 100+ implicit data points fromusage; whether that is a page visit, a scrolletc.” (Berry 2011: 152)
  3. 3. Hitting & trackingEvery time a web user requests awebsite, a series of trackingfeatures are enabled.
  4. 4. Hitting & trackingEvery time a web user requests awebsite, a series of trackingfeatures are enabled.Workshop objective: Tracking thetrackers.
  5. 5. Cookies• (HTML) Cookies are a string of text or aunique identifier downloaded to your browserafter requesting a website.• Cookies do not share data about the user,but recognise returning visits/requests.• Every time the associated website isvisited, information is send to the cookieowner.
  6. 6. Cookies• Can be issued by requested website.• But can also come from third partyproviders: ad companies, analytics services,social media platforms.Multiple purposes• Remember site preferences.• Collect information to enhance usability ofsite.• Part of secure logins.• User profiling across sites (ad services).• Behavioural targeting.• Additional user data for platform.
  7. 7. Cookies & dataflows• Tracking devices enable behaviouraltargeting.• Not only happen in the back-end, return tousers through personalised ads &recommendations.
  8. 8. Tracking ecologies• Tracking data is used & re-used by multiple actors.• Profiling, reselling, personalisation, recommendation, behaviourtargeting, re-combination...• Profiling machines (Elmer 2004), qualculation (Thrift 2008), de- &recomposition of relations (Mackenzie 2012).• Part of multiple relational databases: Not individual datasets ordatapoints matter, but relations created between them (Mackenzie2012).
  9. 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. 10. Social media platform cookies• Platform features (Facebook Connect, Twitter Buttons,etc) can place cookies.• Data can be connected to existing user profiles orcollected and used upon sign-up.• Facebook: Cookies not used for ads. Twitter: used forads & recommendations.• All web users are potential platform users & contributeto its data mining practices.
  11. 11. Beyond cookies• Flash cookies: Used on Flash websites.• Server logs: Saving requests to the website’s serverusually 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 partiesto identify website requests. Do not place a file on thebrowser.• Widgets: Small applications that can be implementedand executed on websites, i.e. social media or blogwidgets.
  12. 12. Tracking blockersGhostery: 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 onthe most dominant tracking devices online.• Detecting over 1000 trackers.
  13. 13. Visualising trackersMozilla Collusion: Creates a network ofbrowsed sites and associated trackingservices for users in real time whilebrowsing.• Visualises which services are trackingusers and how they are connected to otherwebsites visited.
  14. 14. Tracking blockersDisconnect.me: Blocks and visualisestrackers. Especially disables social widgetsand personalised advertising.• Disables Facebook Social Plugins/recommendation features.
  15. 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. 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. 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. 18. Tracking projects & research Visipisi: Deploys cookies to detect which websites have recently been visited.
  19. 19. DMI: Tracker Tracker• Objective: detecting interfaces to the cloud anddata-mining features operating in the back-end.• Repurpose analytical capacities of Ghostery todetect presence of tracking devices on websites.• Input list of URL, output: list of trackers &network formatted data.
  20. 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. 21. DMI: Tracker Tracker Websites using Facebook Social Plugins and Facebook Connect in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, February 2012
  22. 22. DMI: Tracker Tracker Websites using Google Analytics in the top 1000 global websites according to Alexa, February 2012
  23. 23. DMI: Tracker Tracker Presence of Trackers on websites of Dutch political parties, June 2012.
  24. 24. Tracking exercise1. 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 distinguishdifferent tracking services.
  25. 25. Questions? Anne Helmond (UvA) & Carolin Gerlitz (Goldsmiths)

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