Corbett Barr
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You’re being watched.

Ever have that feeling you’re being watched online? It’s not just a feeling. You ARE being watched online.

Maybe you’ve noticed ads that seem to follow you from site to site. The majority of websites use cookies and trackers that report what you do to a centralized server used by advertisers (and others) to manipulate your behavior.

Cookie warnings don’t solve the problem, either. They only clutter the web. And in most cases you don’t have a choice. Accept the cookies and tracking, or leave. But even if you choose to leave, you’ve already been tracked.

Imagine if every time you walked into a physical store, someone scanned a barcode on your body to learn who you are. Then they followed you around the store watching you, and recorded everything you did. Then, when you left, they sent all the details of your visit to a central reporting agency so any other store you visit could be ready to “personalize” your experience.

Some of this does happen in the physical world already. Any time the digital and physical worlds overlap, you’re likely being tracked. Rewards cards, credit cards, mobile apps, etc. all have ways of keeping tabs on what you do in the real world, much like websites do.

Tracking behavior is only going to increase both online and off, unless we do something about it.

Companies like Amazon are experts at tracking you online, so you better believe they’re translating what they know to physical store experiences.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist or privacy freak. I just think it’s disgusting that businesses choose to surreptitiously violate your privacy so they can manipulate your behavior to eke out a little more profit.

Here’s the real point of this post: Google is probably the worst culprit in the cesspool of online tracking.

If you run a website, you’ve probably heard of Google Analytics. It’s a tool that helps website owners understand who is visiting their websites, what pages they’re looking at, and so on.

Google Analytics (GA) is a “free” product. But you know what they say about free products right? If you aren’t paying for something, then you are the product.

Except in this case, it’s even worse. As a website owner using GA, it’s not just you who is the product, but it’s also every single one of your visitors.

As part of my huge digital housekeeping effort, I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy and tracking.

I’ve been as guilty as anyone. Having used GA for 10+ years across dozens of websites, I’ve been responsible for tens of millions of data points being sent to the digital overlords over the years.

I’m not alone, either. Google makes GA free because it’s the best way for them to track as much of the web as possible.

As a site owner, you think, “hey cool, Google makes this awesome analytics product for free. How nice of them. I’m going to install it on my website so I can see how many people are stopping by.”

It’s an innocent enough decision. The vast majority of GA users have no intention of using any tracking data or advertising or manipulating behavior. In fact, most site owners use just a tiny fraction of what GA offers, but all the tracking still happens regardless, to the benefit of Google and it’s advertising partners.

Somewhere between 50% and 80% of websites use Google Analytics, depending on how you interpret the stats.

We can do better, people. I can do better.

As of today, my personal blog no longer uses Google Analytics, or any cookies or tracking of any kind.

This website is proudly cookie free and tracker free.

I will also be removing GA from every other site I own.

If you run a website, I encourage you to do the same. For most of us, there are no benefits to allowing our visitors to be tracked. We’re simply being complicit in this tracking scheme, in the name of getting a “free” analytics tool.

It’s gross, and I’m done with it.

If you still want to know how many people are visiting your website, there are ways to do so without tracking anyone.

Most web hosts have some sort of basic cookie/tracker free server-side reporting. Server-side reporting is often flawed however, for technical reasons, and because web hosts aren’t in the business of analytics software.

Two great privacy-first analytics services that provide client-side reporting are Fathom and Plausible (which I’m using on this site). Neither services are free, but they’re cheap when you consider you’ve been implicitly selling to Google in exchange for their Trojan horse.

Another option that just launched is Cloudflare’s Web Analytics. This free option is also privacy-first and lightweight.

I know I’ve singled out Google in this post, but there are plenty more companies who engage in similar tactics and surreptitious tracking. Facebook is particularly guilty of this behavior, as are most of the big tech companies.

Our choices matter. If you care about online privacy, pay attention, and choose businesses and tools that put your privacy first.

Published December, 2020

About the author

Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I write about the creator economy 🧑‍🎨 digital minimalism 🧘 and tech for social good 🙌.

I’ve been self employed online since 2005, earning a living from blogging, podcasting, online courses, memberships, SaaS and more. I’ve bootstrapped, freelanced, consulted and raised venture capital.

Recently, I started over to refocus on writing, and to reevaluate my digital self.

I’m a big fan of digital media and techology, but I believe we should all be using it more mindfully and that technology itself should be a force for social good.

I write a monthly-ish newsletter for people who make things on the Internet. I hope you’ll subscribe:

Unsubscribe anytime. I promise to respect your inbox and privacy.

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