Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ignorance is bliss????

When I started this blog I embedded Google Analytics, because, although I do enjoy writing the blog, I was interested to see if anyone was reading it. I hadn't done much research into Google Analytics before embedding it - just that it was free and I was willing to give it a go.

Each week I give my Google Analytics account a visit to see who has visited and from where....and the following is one of the pieces of information I can select... it is the map of the cities where I have visitors from - 222 cities! (Click on the pic to enlarge)

In the real version I am able to scroll the curser over the dot, it will tell me what city it is and how many people visited from that city since starting the blog, in the last month or in the last week....coooool.

This next picture is the 41 countries where my visitors come from....

In the real version, I can again scroll over the country and it tells me what country and how many visits.

These next pictures tell me what browsers and Operating systems you are all using....

I can see that IE and Windows still have the market share, but Firefox and Mac are slowly catching up.

Other interesting information is how people are finding my blog:

I am also able to access how long you spend on the blog, which pages are being read and how quickly you move on after opening the page.

There is then another table which tells me what sites people are being referred from, how many have bookmarked my page, and what keywords are being put into a search engine to find my page, and I am told which search engines are being used to find my blog - Google has the lions share at 98% of searches being conducted to find my page.

In other reports of Google Analytics I can see what language people have their keyboard set to, what colour settings they have and screen resolutions, I can see how many of you use flash, or java and what versions are being used, plus a whole lot of other info - the only information I don't have access to is your names and how to contact you directly - unless I haven't found it yet.

So what does all this mean? If I was a commercial entity I could use this information to tweak my web page to ensure I continued to capture people that I wanted to. If I ran an advertising campaign I could see how effective it was in capturing peoples attention, and I could see if my money was being well spent. I could adjust my settings and messages to target specific browser users and Operating systems.

Personally it is a bit frightening to me that so much of my own, what I consider irrelevent information, is accessible - what language my keyboard is set to? Screen resolution and colour settings? What OS I am using and what I am accessing where and when can be tracked and even the keywords I am using to locate resources. All this information is enclosed in the cookies we exchange every time we communicate online, Google Analytics (as well as other applications) are just capturing it.

What further information will be exchanged and captured in the future - and will we be told and really understand the implications? Every time we upgrade Firefox, IE, Safari, what new information will be harvested? As educators do we have a responsibility to educate others about this not very well known aspect of information harvesting?

Please keep visiting my blog - I know where to find you if you don't! ;-)


Mrs. C. said...

That's incredible and a little bit worrying! Will need to take a few days to digest and maybe I will look at whose looking at my blog!

KimY said...

Scary Big Brother stuff!!

I read Jeffrey Deaver's novel, "The Blue Nowhere" which centred around a killer who worked in an information collection agency that collected information(that he then used) from the internet, mobile phones, GPS, etc and it really frightened me just how much people can find about me ....and what if this information falls into the wrong hands??

On a brighter's great to see how many people are interested in your thoughts Dianne!

Jill Egan said...

What great information! Thanks for sharing, Diane. (I guess as long as I'm leaving a trail, I might as well leave comments, too!)

Jordan S said...

This is where people get confused.

Only one thing here is cookie based: Re-visits.

everything else is sent every time you open a page, no matter if you have cookies on or off, its all automatic, though some browsers (Firefox/Flock with a few addons) can change this information.

As a Server Administrator, I often check the logs with a similar program to Google Analytics but more complex, sometimes certain browsers (I'm lookin' at you IE) actually send an email address along with the other info, i don't see it often, but it has happened.

Some people don't see the importance of things like this, some one spamming you? Grab the IP and the Time/Date from the logs and send an abuse report directly to the users Internet Service Provider.
its also used to distinguish between Users and 'Spiders' (automated webbrowsers that grab a bit of information from your site then submit it to a search engine like Google or Yahoo!) Users will almost always be one of Opera, FireFox, Safari, IE, or Chrome, you will notice 'GoogleBot', this is a Spider that sends to Google.

In short: most of this is just statistic information, not many people actually try to use it for malicious things, as it is so easy to change.

If you really wanted to know what a user is doing, you would have to be the user.