Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spying on Spies

Feel free to track them tracking you by using these tools.

Image Source: Scot Ritchie on Netplaces.com
In my last post I mentioned that you could pick any corporation and it's a sure bet that they are tracking your activities on their website. Looking through their source code often reveals the analytics tools in use, and some of their tactics. However, going one step further to use a packet-sniffer, javascript debugger, or browser plugin of some sort allows you to quickly see if a particular tool is in use. It also allows you to see some of the things they are tracking about you.

The list of "Inspection Tools for Measure" listed below presents a solid list of tools you can use to monitor the data that is being gathered with each page you view, each video you watch, each search you make, and really anything else you do online.

I have used about half of them, and am trying out a few others. They all have their strengths and limitations, for example HttpFox (tool #3 below) is great for tracking multiple items throughout a visit but you have to be using Firefox to use it. Charles (tool #4 below) is a great tool to track activity across browsers, but it is only free for 30 minutes at a time.

The screen shot below shows two ways to see whether a page is tracking you using Google Analytics. The first is just looking at the source code for 'UA-' on the example page of http://mozilla.org. The second is using GA? (tool #16 below), which is as simple as looking at the little icon in the add-ons bar to see if it is in color or if it is greyed out. Hovering over will also give you a pop-up confirming one way or the other.
Example 1: Mozilla.org's source code showing Google Analytics tracking, and GA? Firefox add-on showing GA is installed.













This next example shows the user-friendly tool called WATS (tool #2 below) in action on WWE.com. You can see that once it is installed in Firefox, you just click on the magnifying glass icon in the top right of the browser and it opens the tool on the left side of your browser. You can keep it open as you browse to ESPN.com, SkullCandy.com, Disney.com, or any other major brands you want to examine exactly what they are tracking about you.  For the WWE example below, I have circled a text value that is "First Visit". Sometimes the data will be intelligible, other times not as much.

Example 2: Using WATS on WWE.com to see SiteCatalyst variables being tracked about your visit
This post isn't a tutorial on each of the tools, nor is it saying that you will be able to see all the details about what is being tracked on you. And of course the main use for the tools below is for debugging and testing when you know exactly what each variable is meant to track. But it is interesting to review different tactics and tools in use. If you intend on applying for an analytics opening at a company, wow them at the interview by familiarizing yourself with their tracking practices before you go in.
Please use the comments section to discuss your favorite debugging and monitoring tools. Mention any other tools missing from the list, and of course you can up-vote your favorites.Happy tracking of the trackers!
Inspection Tools for measure
View more lists from Chris Brinkworth

Sources:

  • Spies Image by Scot Ritchie: http://www.netplaces.com/kids-spies-puzzles-activities/chirp-squeak-and-grrrr-animals-that-spy/whos-watching-who.htm
  • Inspection Tools for Measure: http://list.ly/list/AD-inspection-tools-for-measure