Your digital privacy is important

Week 65 was posted by Charanjit Chana on 2019-01-21.

One of my weekly tasks is to take a look at what is happening in web design, I look at what the trends are, look for common UI and UX patterns and when I come across something truly inspiring I look at how it was all put together. A couple of weeks ago, this led to a bit of a rant, why are websites so bad? Sadly there are many reasons.

Tracking users with more than analytics tool? You're doing it wrong.

— Charanjit Chana (@cchana) January 7, 2019

In this thread (which will undoubtedly grow), tracking is probably the darkest pattern on the web right now. Sadly, at the time of writing, you are being tracked on 1 Thing A Week. Not by me, per se, but by Google. I don't have any interest in who you are, your age or your location. Do I care about new versus returning visitors? That's a luxury in my opinion and one I'd live without. There are a few things I want to know which would help me improve a few things about what I offer on 1 Thing A Week.

Here's a list of the thee things I would want from an analytics tool over the course of a month:

  1. Number of pages view per
  2. Number of unique visits (not visitors)
  3. Views per page

Point one would let me gauge if readership was up (regardless of number of users). Point two would give me a rough pages per visits count and knowing how many visits were made would be another way to judge readership if point one wasn't available. While the first two are the most useful to be able to get by, point three is actually the most important as it gives me a clue as to which content is the most popular.

1The Homepage
2New UEFA Champions League branding 2018
3The state of the Apple TV 2014
4How to take better photos
5Sole Origins
62018 Apple iPhones & Apple Watch Series 4
8Tesla Roadster 2020
9Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
10Realistic flags

It took me a while to realise that tracking the homepage itself was useless as it changes on a weekly basis (who knew!) so I made a change that forced it to count the current article instead. Stats are more accurate for it, but at the time of writing, the homepage is the most popular!

Pretty surprising to me is that the raw figures show that the Champions League article is #2 in the list followed by last weeks article at number 3. It's still early days since I changed how the homepage is tracked and the story could be very different had that been taken into account before.

Ads are another evil I'm experimenting with. I decided against ads at the very start but have slowly introduced them in a hopefully subtle way. This is something I'll review often and I am always on the look out for advertisers that do not require cookies to be set when display ads. Google's AdSense was fantastic when it first rolled out, it would scan the page and show ads relevant to the content. Sadly this is no longer an option as ads are targets at both content and users now. I'd happily opt for the just the former.

The weight of a website

One of my big issues with web development today is the weight of a website. They're enormous. If they had a BMI, most would be classed as hyper obese. And like our weight, portion control and a bit of exercise is all it takes to rein it all in and to become a lot healthier. It's January, stick with me on the health/exercise analogies!

What do I mean by portion control? Compressing any files sent to your browser, they should be as small as possible. As for exercise, it drives me insane how much anyone building a website will rely on heavy technology to solve a problem. Need something to jump around the page? You can do that without a library, but it's easier... Why not exercise your brain and find the correct solution. Why not exercise your tools and push them to the limit, you might have something more complex than you might have wanted but I can almost guarantee it won't be bloated and it won't have anything redundant.

Your privacy online

I have very limited need for everything Google Analytics offers me but I have yet to come across a solution that will give me accurate statistics for pageviews and unique users. I take your privacy when visiting 1 Thing A Week as seriously as I take mine. I tried building my own tracking tools, but bots are everywhere and constantly evolving and they massively skew statistics. Competitors are not good enough and I'd prefer a solution that didn't force you to download something, most likely without your knowledge.

Google are not the enemy here either, or at least not the primary enemy. I've embedded a tweet above, this requires a file to be loaded from which gives you the Twitter experience, but undoubtedly they're tracking you. YouTube offer a privacy option for embedding, but the minute you interact with it, all bets are off. Should I embed tweets, I think it adds to the experience and gives more context. Should you be tracked. No.

I refuse to use social buttons because of the tracking they do. I've managed to offer 12 sharing options under every article, without having to compromise. I'll continue to look for solutions for Twitter and tracking too...

Opt out

Need to offer toggles to comply with EU cookie notices or GDPR? You're doing it wrong.

— Charanjit Chana (@cchana) January 7, 2019

If you're given the choice to opt out of being tracked, marketing is the one to try to avoid. I see a lot of sites now that ask for permission for necessary, analytics and marketing. Should the first one be an option? It always looks odd to me, but I guess for transparency it make some sense. Analytics for sure needs to be there, but it would be a lot simpler if websites asking to be tracked by multiple services... pick one! It's additional weight and it's more data being collected than necessary.

Marketing is the one that is most invasive, tracking your interests, purchases and habits across websites is creepy. I'm sure radio and TV channels are using analytics and perhaps localisation to improve the value of advertising with them but the amount of data collected online and then used to target us is depressing.

Cookie notices and GDPR have sadly made our interactions with websites worse, introducing pain points on entry but they've put more control in to the hands of individuals. Whether the settings are honoured or not is another thing, but I've certainly been more mindful and far less forgiving of websites.

Over a year ago I switched back to Safari on iOS and I've recently switched to Safari on my Mac as my default browser. I'd heard the promise of better battery life but most importantly the privacy changes made to Safari have made it harder for you to be identified as an individual by reducing the amount of information shared. This is a fantastic way forward and something all operating systems should adopt.

Your privacy is important to me, I really only want access to the three bits of information I outlined above. If you have any questions, give me a shout.

Tags: apps, privacy, apps, privacy

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