Who is watching you?
Who's against video surveillance?
When you walk in to a store, there's a good chance you are being video taped. We accept that stores will have “security cameras”.
Many of us, including me, would consider that to be an encroachment on, if not an invasion of, our privacy—if we were even aware of being taped at all. They record our likeness (even on bad hair days) purchased items and those we merely looked at, the time and duration of visit and the people we were with.
Generally, the purpose of walking into a store is to make or consider making a purchase, to the direct financial benefit of the store owner. The personal benefit of increased security that video surveillance affords us exists. However, to amount to much, it needs to be ubiquitous.
Some of us, including me, would consider a level of surveillance to be a reasonable balance between security and privacy. Before you hasten to disagree, answer this question:
Do you protest every time a would-be shopper makes the news, identified from video footage as the thug who shot the store attendant?
In contrast, on the Internet even the most innocuous accumulation of anonymous, aggregated data is considered an unreasonable invasion of our privacy.
You want to just sneak in and out without even saying “Hi!” do you?
We will visit a site to selfishly extract the information or pleasure we desire and leave, affording little or no benefit, financial or otherwise, to the site owner. We then go even further, expecting the site owner should not even know that “someone” was there.
What data is actually reported to the site owner? That depends on the Web Analytics tool(s) used for measuring his site's performance. Most tools report by pages or by visitors & visits.
Page view statistics include the number of times each page :
- was viewed,
- brought visitors to the site (an “entry” or “landing” page),
- was the last page viewed before the visitor left (an “exit” page),
- was the only page viewed (the dreaded “bounce” visit)
Visitor statistics include:
- total number of visitors,
- total number of visits,
- average visit duration.
- location (down to the city level),
- the hour of the visits, visitor type (new or returning),
- the ordinal number of visit (how many 1st time visitors, 2nd time, etc) and
- when last the visitor was there.
broken down by:
Note that this reporting is only at the aggregate level. The site owner gets reports on how many visitors – not which visitors – visited from a city; how many visitors visited between 3pm and 4pm; how many visitors viewed the sexy lingerie page, not which visitors.
It's not impossible for the site-owner to find out precisely who visited the sexy lingerie page, but that is not what Web Analytics (WA) is for. Its tools are extremely poor at achieving such a twisted and unusual objective. It also requires some pre-meditation.
Do you know the rules? Some WA tool vendors prohibit getting up close and personal. E.g. Google Analytics Terms of Service regulates the use of GA by site owners and expressly (and clearly) prohibits tracking any form of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). (See Clause 7. PRIVACY). And site owners' attention has been drawn to it: here.
So where is the democracy in all of this?
Does it occur to us that the site owner gathers the attributes of our visits with the intention of improving the site, often for our own benefit?
I'm not suggesting that its investment in Web Analytics is made for your benefit, but ultimately, if the owner does not satisfy the majority of its site's visitors, the site is a failure.
Merely by visiting and leaving or viewing some pages and not others or by exiting the site we are voting with our mouses. That is a pure form of democracy – a means of getting feedback (as is any free and fair election, whether for a president or a web-page)
If I visit a site, even for casual, personal, browsing, that does not use analytics, I feel the site owner doesn't care how their site is being received by visitors. He may be totally oblivious to how many people, if any, even visit his site, which pages are being read and which may be causing visitors to leave!
A failure to track visitors is like discarding voters' ballots.
Nowhere else does each public vote count as it does in Web Analytics
How Web Analytics democracy works
I need to know if visitors are reading this article. Should I write another on this topic? I will know how many people visited this page. I will know for how long this page was open in the browser before a link to any other page on our site was clicked. But how do I measure your collective engagement? How do I know if you “voted” for this content?
I can't rely on comments because you only might comment if you are not too busy and if you disagree with me vehemently enough. That would be like confusing special interest groups with the electorate.
To solve that problem and demonstrate democracy first hand, I added the link 'So where is the democracy in all of this…?” and will count how many times it was clicked compared to how many time this page was viewed. Your vote will be counted and I, as would most political candidates, will be holding my breath. WA is every bit as exciting as politics.
Here's another example. Assume we search for “dog care” and click a result to arrive at www.dog__care-today.com.
Knowing how many visitors arrived through that term and what they did on the site, tells the site owner if her site is satisfying the needs of its visitors or failing. Assume she finds that 95% of visitors leave immediately (again that dreaded “bounce”). She learns either that her site does not adequately deal with its main subject matter or that it's not adequately engaging the visitors who actually searched for that main subject matter. Visitors have spoken and have said her content SUCKS! She needs to improve the content if visitors are to get more benefit from her site.
If she makes changes, she can then measure their effect. Now that's what I call voting for change!