Our call for websites and web-blogs to use piwik analytics to protect privacy of readers angered Professor Titus Brown of Michigan State University, whose blog continues to use google analytics with code ‘UA-32627666-1’. Since we have been deemed ‘insanely ignorant’ (both ‘insane’ and ‘ignorant’), we will spread little more ignorance in this commentary to see what other superlatives he has in his vocabulary.
First we will walk you through an update to ‘internet reality’ by W3C, which, if you do not know, is an organization dealing with the internet and not metagenomes. What is W3C up to? They are planning to introduce a new HTTP header field.
The Do Not Track (DNT) header is the proposed HTTP header field DNT that requests that a web application disable either its tracking or cross-site user tracking (the ambiguity remains unresolved) of an individual user. The Do Not Track header was originally proposed in 2009 by researchers Christopher Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky. It is currently being standardized by the W3C.
You can also check The History of the Do Not Track Header from Christopher Soghoian’s blog. Who is against the move by W3C? It is the ‘reasonable voice’ cited by Titus Brown (more near the bottom).
Who is pushing for the change? Mostly people and government of Germany (soon to be declared ‘backward’ by Titus Brown), where privacy is still important. The piwik analytics program we use is being used by 13% of German website, because it allows -
Privacy Options the ability to anonymize IP addresses, purge tracking data regularly (but not report data), opt-out support and Do Not Track support. In Germany, 13% of .de websites use Piwik because of these options.
Though not strictly speaking a feature, Piwik also has the characteristic that users are the only people who see their own data. This is a by-product of Piwik being a self-hosted solution. Software as a service solutions (such as Google Analytics) on the other hand, have full access to the data users collect.
What does that last part mean? For those simpletons, conspiracy fact believers, non-Obama apologists (non-Obots) and other ignorant souls not being trained about internet in a metagenomics lab in Michigan, here is how the internet works.
(i) You request a website from your ipad by typing it on the URL window. Say you type ‘http://ivory.idyll.org/blog/’.
(ii) Your computer sends the request to Titus Brown’s server sitting somewhere in Dearborn, Hoboken or maybe Lansing.
(iii) Titus Brown’s server sends a text file back to your server, which your browser renders into graphical format displaying the very sad news of his father passing away. We privately sent our condolences to Titus, but here we will give you one example to show how knowledgeable he was, even though we never directly interacted with him. Few months back Titus was looking for other countries to host an internet/email account and we asked why. Titus explained that it was for his dad, who was concerned about loss of privacy to US government. How did a physicist figure out months before media? Maybe he was ‘insanely ignorant’ like us :)
Getting back to our original topic, you can actually see the text file that Titus Brown’s server sent to your computer. If you right click your mouse to select ‘view page source’, your browser will open an window that looks like the following image:
In it, you will find various code blocks such as this one.
|var _gaq = _gaq||;|
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’); s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
What does it mean? That code block forces your browser to run a program, which connects to google every time you read his blog. So, Google servers know instantaneously, when you access his blog and Google will save your IP address, time, etc. for eternity. In our ‘insanely ignorant’ understanding, it is an unnecessary invasion to readers’ privacy. Although the readers can themselves install plug-ins like ghostera, it is far easier for website and blog authors to install piwik given how easy the process is. Is Titus Brown trying to claim that google analytics is absolutely necessary, because universities like Stanford and online journals like PLOS cannot install a simple analytics program? Piwik can draw pretty charts just like google analytics, and as an added advantage piwik gives those charts in real time. Piwik is open source available under GNU GPL, and so you can change the code in any way you want. In fact, we are surprised that open-source advocates like Titus Brown (and apparently ‘sane’ and ‘smart’ unlike us) did not find it out before us given how much he lectures everyone on open-source, GPL and freedom to see source code.
For the sake of completeness, we did check the ‘more reasonable’ link in Titus Brown’s tweet and found that it was written by someone, whose goal is to discredit ‘Do not track’ movement with lies and misinformation.
The blog contains a ‘white paper’ from 2011 claiming to explain why ‘Do not track’ will not work and here is the best they could come up with.
Even while some divisions of government are proselytizing for the rapid adoption of risky and overly simplistic do-not-track mechanisms that are more akin to sledgehammers than balanced control methodologies, and aimed particularly at ad personalization networks – others in government are pushing hard for vast and comprehensive data retention laws that would require ISPs and Web services to record and maintain detailed records of virtually all Web browsing, email, and other activities.
Unlike the care employed in typical major ad personalization networks to prevent the association of related data in a manner that could be used beyond the stated purpose of ad presentations, government-mandated data retention regimes nearly inevitably require that all activity data be directly tied to individual users in a manner subject to full identification and reporting on demand of authorities, sometimes even without the requirement of warrants or other court orders.
In a nutshell, Google cannot stop tracking you, because ‘government’ (I presume US government, because the laws are quite opposite in EU and especially Germany) is forcing Google to track you, and Titus Brown cannot install piwik or other free, local and open-source analytics program in his blog, because we are ‘insanely ignorant’.
Sorry Titus, we have no option other than giving you an F in this round.