Friday, March 30, 2012

Track Me If You Can

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Ever since the launch of google analytics in 2005, many businesses have turned to web analytics as the solution to help them get a better idea of who their audiences are and what they prefer. However, as online consumers become increasingly wary towards being tracked by faceless marketers behind the screen, more web users are looking to anti-tracking tools to help them stay anonymous on the web. Traditionally difficult and tedious to use, anti-tracking tools today such as “Do Not Track” have make online anonymity friendly to the average web user. 

This could be the reason why the number of web users who utilize anti-tracking tools are expected to increase exponentially in the very near future. The number of Internet users in North America using anti-tracking tools and services is projected to be 28.1 million (10%) by the end of 2012, up from 17.2(6%) million last year[1]. Suppliers of the best-known anti-tracking tools — Ghostery, Adblock Plus and TrackerBlock — all reported big jumps in usage in the second half of 2011[2]. Ghostery, for instance, is being downloaded by 140,000 new users each month, with total downloads doubling to 4.5 million in the past 12 months[3].

If anti-tracking add-in programs aren’t enough, browser makers are also responding to users’ demands for more privacy online by supporting anti-tracking capabilities in browser. Mozilla's latest Firefox 11 browser[4] as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9[5] browser are examples of recent versions that allow users to protect themselves against tracking with just a simple click.

Additionally, many large sites are finding that over half of their page code is actually consumed by web analytics tags[6]. The fact that bulky tracking tags slow down the page’s loading speed and negatively affects users' overall web experience is enough a reason for some users to choose to block tracking, even if online privacy isn’t their top concern.

Lastly, research has shown that 80% of internet-enabled mobile devices are completely invisible to page tags[7]. As mobile is predicted to overtake PC as the main source of web traffic by 2013[8], this would mean that a significant amount of site traffic will not be track, and tracking results can in turn be pretty unreliable.

However, despite an increasing number of web users choosing to block tracking, many marketers still consider javascript-based tracking programs such as Google Analytics, the most reliant and cost-effective way to gather consumer intelligence today.

Marketers who argue against the predicted impact of the anti-tracking movement suggest that because major browsers are still not, and most likely never (due to vested interest) going to make anti-tracking a default function, the number of web users that would utilize anti-tracking tools will not grow to a significant population as few web users actually change the default setting of their browsers[9].


[1] Web users seek shelter from online data snoops,
[2]More web users aim to thwart prying eyes,
[3]Consumers turn to do-not-track software to maintain privacy,
[4] Firefox 4.0 Beta 11 Introduces Anti-Tracking Privacy Feature,
[5]InPrivate Browsing made easy with Internet Explorer 9 pinned sites,
[6] Limitations of Page Tags: The Blind Spots and Road Blocks of Traditional Web Analytics Data Collection,
[7] Mobile Devices Invisible to Page Tags:More than 80% of mobile device models do not support web analytics tags,
[8] 5 Mobile Stats You Need to Know,
[9] Do users change their settings?

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