Monitoring Website Visitors Not The Same As Violating Privacy

from the what's-the-big-deal dept

There’s some concern about a new startup called Genius, which offers a service that allows companies to closely watch the behavior of visitors to their website. Using the service, a company can send a mass marketing email, track each user’s resulting clickstream and keep that data associated with their email address. The next time they send out a mailer, they can personalize each message based on the user’s behavior when accessing the site. Naturally, some are worried about the privacy implications, and the fact that users don’t know they’re being tracked. But what kind of privacy does one expect when they visit a company’s store? Companies have always tracked user data both online and in the physical world. Much of people’s concern probably comes from the semantics used in describing the company, which makes it seem like there’s someone watching a user’s every move. Of course, nobody is really going to watch a user personally; instead their actions will get recorded into a database from where a computer can design a personalized marketing pitch. If the controversy seems familiar, it should; the whole thing sounds like the initial uproar surrounding Gmail, when people were stunned that Google would actually tailor advertising based on the contents of personal email. But, in both cases, the data is collected so that computers can help facilitate transactions, not for humans to gain access to an individual’s private information.


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Comments on “Monitoring Website Visitors Not The Same As Violating Privacy”

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21 Comments
Buzz (profile) says:

There are limits

In regards to visiting a web site, I personally do not care if the site tracks my clicks and/or how long I look at each page. However, if I received an email from a site where I did not explicitly give it (in other words, the site did some information gathering otherwise and conjured up my email via IP tracking or whatever) then I would complain. I just don’t want to bothered unless I ask to be bothered. Otherwise, I take it for granted that sites kinda “have a right” to watch their visitors (within reasonable limits).

Anonymous Coward says:

NEWS: Now TechDirt blocks your IP address if they disagree with your comments.

TechDirt will reply “Your comment has been flagged as potential spam, it will be reviewed by our staff before it is posted.” if your IP had been blocked… Even if you had never posted. No matter if your comment/reply *IS* relevant to the topic being discussed, it will never be “reviewed” by staff, and thus you have waisted your time stating your relevant reply.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

NEWS: Now TechDirt blocks your IP address if they disagree with your comments.

Um, this is 100% false. We do have a spam filter in place that measures a number of different factors to take a guess if something is spam. We do check the spam filter frequently and if a post is legitimate, we let it go through. It has NOTHING to do with the content of your post, and you should be able to recognize that from the number of posts that disagree with us.

We review all the posts that are flagged. If you had a legit post flagged, we will later pass it on to the site.

Please do not make false accusations on this site.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Re #10. Then why is it that EXACTLY THE SAME CONTENT cannot be posted from one IP address (I receive the “spam” message), but when I use a completely different IP address, there is no “SPAM” message?

The spam system we use is from Akismet. You should ask them. However, I believe IP addresses are a big part of how they determine what’s spam.

Either way, as I said, we review the filtered messages frequently, so if your message gets held, it’s only held for a brief period of time.

Eve says:

Deception

Though stores track visitor’s click streams, they don’t have the visitors’ email addresses.

The lack of disclusure in the inviting email is what makes in unacceptable.

Then again, those who click on links in an unsolicited email should learn their lesson one way or another. This genius makes you learn it the hard way.

Eve says:

Deception

Though stores track visitor’s click streams, they don’t have the visitors’ email addresses.

The lack of disclusure in the inviting email is what makes in unacceptable.

Then again, those who click on links in an unsolicited email should learn their lesson one way or another. This genius makes you learn it the hard way.

Ted Smith (user link) says:

Networking: Is that bank's URL legitimate?

CHICAGO, May 1 (UPI) — Computer-security professionals at the weekend were working on what is being described as a just-emerging IT problem — the kind which, if the pros are correct, potentially could imperil all e-commerce across the globe. Hackers have apparently compromised the computer server of a Russian bank and set up a fake subsite to “phish” for credit-card information and other personal financial details, experts tell UPI’s Networking.

This is a new kind of phishing scam, as computer criminals usually set up sites that simply look and feel similar to the site they are attacking. But in this instance, the phishers replicated the Moscow-based KS Bank site itself, http://www.ks-bank.ru, and not just an image of it, and created a page that used its exact URL, a subsite of that URL, http://www.ks-bank.ru/.x/hvfcu. This new tactic raises a horrid specter for online banking consumers — the grinding fear of whether one’s e-commerce site is what it purports to be or is actually a criminal enterprise. By Gene Koprowski

Bob says:

Re: Networking: Is that bank's URL legitimate?

HONOLULU, May 3rd, 2006 (AP) – This is why BofA has a SiteKey and stores financial information off of the Web-server. And how many minutes passed before the Russian bank’s IT personnel figured it out and fixed it? Was anyone taken into custody? This is an official news report because it has that official stuff at the beginning of the first paragraph, by the way.

Dominic Jones (user link) says:

That's nothing, baby.

From a vendor of outsourced investor relations websites to some of America’s biggest public companies:

* Page-by-page and person-by-person tracking on an identified investor’s interests

* How much time an identified investor spent reading a specific page

* Which financials and other files an investor has download

* What topics and keywords an investor is researching

* What news and information alerts (read RSS) an investor is subscribed to

* What printed materials, such as an annual report, an investor has requested

A fat dosier compiled on your every move 24/7. Tied in with other databases, they also know how much money you manage, what other stocks you own, what questions you asked on a competitor’s conference call. They have it all and analysts and portfolio managers and retail investors are clueless. No idea.

he, he.

Joe (user link) says:

Re: Genius

Matt, thanks for the comment. Sorry for not having responded sooner.

I don’t disagree that companies could use Genius to monitor a customer in real time, only that they would. No e-commerce site with any significant traffic would devote resources to having people sit around and watch individuals click around on their website. If any company uses the service, it will be to associate customer behavior with a specific email address, in order to tailor future marketing. From time to time, I imagine companies would go back and replay a customer’s visit, but even then it will probably be more to learn more about site usability than to monitor a specific customer’s actions. That being said, even if a company hired a team of people to watch every customers actions, it still doesn’t seem like a big deal — it’s no different than being watched in a shop, and doesn’t amount to an invasion of privacy.

Again, thanks for the comment. Let me know if you see it differently.

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