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This Is How comScore Tracks Everything You Do Online

If you think you have any privacy online, think again. Simply visiting one website can trigger connections to as many as 10 or 20 more, all of which can place tracking cookies on your computer and see where you go.

Sound scary? It is.

Since reading “The Intention Economy” by Doc Searls I wondered just how little privacy we have online. The answer: very little. To find out just how little I embarked on a mission to see how much of my online activity is tracked. It was on that journey I discovered something I hadn’t expected – one way that comScore, the company that releases research on Internet usage, actually gets that data.

I think you’ll be unpleasantly surprised.

This is just additional evidence of the amount of data collection occurring in the US. And while I can’t say for sure if Disqus is selling this data to comScore, or if they get paid to insert code into websites so comScore can do the tracking, that is a business model that some companies pursue, and their privacy policy does allow for it.

To be fair, comScore does provide a web analytics product (here), and Disqus provide VIP features that include additional analytics (here). So maybe it’s no big deal, as many sites use third-party analytics tools.

As a data geek I find it interesting to ponder what my comScore profile might look like, as I’ve visited many sites that use Disqus and left many comments. Hrm…

Question!

Are you concerned about all of this tracking going on, or does it not really concern you?

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your article.  I agree with your, Robert. Who would want their information gets shared by other people. I don’t know if this rumor is true about Disqus but I really hope it is not.

  2.  @dino_dogan Please see comment from Ryan above. Disqus has a totally different business model and does not sell this data.

  3. Hi, my name is Ryan and I work for Disqus. We use comScore to get independent traffic data which provides clearer insights for our publishers. ComScore is already popular among many of these publishers, so they understand this information better than our own reporting.
     
    To be clear, we don’t sell or share any identifiable information to comScore or anyone else. Many other web services use some kind of web analytics service. For example, Livefyre uses Quantcast which is a similar tool for tracking traffic data.
     
    I hope this eases some of your concerns :)

    •  @ryanvalentin thanks for letting us know Ryan. Question – when you say “publishers”, does that mean that if I was using Disqus, other people would have access to my stats? Not in the sense of seeing the stats specifically for my blog, rather the intelligence gathered on my site is added to their reports? Much like how Google asks if you want your stats to be shared with others.

      •  @RobertDempsey Nope, there’s no way to view detailed statistics from other sites. The data helps us make claims about traffic that are comparable to what you might see if you used one of these services on your own site.

  4. daleperryman says:

    Personally, I’m not too alarmed.  I sent the information to a friend of mine who works for Disqus.  I’ll let you know how he responds.

    •  @daleperryman So you’re cool with companies tracking you online, building profiles and selling that information?
       
      And thanks for passing this on to Disqus. I’m curious as to what the policy with comScore is. Obviously if they’re using their analytics comScore has the data, but even then there’s some type of privacy policy in place.

  5. I may be naive, but it seems the “giving up of information” is a necessary trade-off to gain Internet Real Estate?

    •  @ChuckBartok I wouldn’t call that naive Chuck, but status quo for a very long time. Technology advances faster than policy, and even then regulations put into place by government are over the top.
       
      For now, this is what we’ve got. Unless people get up in arms about it and demand companies act differently.
       
      For the common person though, they’re blissfully unaware of this happening.

  6. Well I think some individuals/companies could be vulnerable to some form of industrial espionage, politicians might have to worry about character assassination  and if one was accused of a crime, prosecutors could use the online info to build a damning profille for purposes of indictment. The nefarious possibilities are endless.
    Riley 

  7. This is a very important and monumental post. 
     
    I’ve always shied away from certain online players. AddThis is the one who’s model is based solely on collecting information. I had no idea DisqUs was doing the same thing…but I cant say Im surprised. 
     
    This is not a blog post, this is investigative journalism. Great job Rob. 

  8. christinejbrady says:

    Hi Robert,
     
    Wow, this is some pretty enlightening stuff!
     
    As a marketer, I’m not sure that it’s such a bad thing.  As you pointed out, it helps advertisers target their message even better.  And ultimately, the Internet offers an incredible volume of users right at the advertisers fingertips – it stands to reason that there would be some way of gathering data for them to use.  Look at Facebook – we volunteer all of our information to them for advertising.
     
    Having said that, it’s interesting that Discus was a common thread – I have left countless comments using that system.  So I guess I volunteered my information without even knowing it.
     
    When you think about all the data that a homeowner gives out when they buy a house, it stands to reason Internet usage would give out an imaginable amount of data.
     
    Great video by the way!
     
    ~Christine 

    •  @christinejbrady as a marketer I love the amount of information we can gather. As a consumer, not so much. Ah the thin line… :)
       
      Without purchasing the VIP service from Disqus (which they don’t give a price for without contacting them) I’m not sure how they present the commenters information. That’s a really good question though.
       
      As for Facebook, we know advertisers can’t get our personal information, however it’s definitely leveraged in terms of ad targeting, along with everything we do inside of Facebook.
       
      You bring up a great point about information on homeowners. There is a lot of information publicly available, otherwise we wouldn’t receive so much junk mail when we move.
       
      So the question is, is there really a difference?

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