Data Collection: Google's Biggest Competitive Advantage

Jun 2nd

Today Google bought Feedburner, which (along with AdSense, AdWords, the Toolbar, Analytics, user accounts, Google Feed Reader, Google Checkout, Youtube, etc) is yet another source of data acquisition for them.

Earlier today I posted about a small and harmless javascript that can be used to see which competing sites visitors visit before going to your site. In the second comment about it a guy named Dave nearly exploded.

While everyone is running around polluting links on the web graph (and fighting over who the spammer is and what is spam), Google is busy building something only they can build, because they are the only ones who get a free pass on collecting user data as a feature.

Published: June 2, 2007

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Comments

Russ Jones
June 7, 2007 - 2:54am

The real danger with this javascript exploit is that it makes it very easy for spammers / phishers to target...

1. Generic spam email that appears to offer something free. URL includes an identifying number tied to email in database.

2. Stupid user visits this page where the javascript exploit is run to determine which, if any, major banks, creditors, etc. the user has visited online.

3. Spammer / phisher sends targeted phishing email to user.

The history object really should be hidden, and it was intended to be so...

PocketSEO
June 9, 2007 - 1:29am

If the JavaScript history trick scares you, use the Firefox NoScript extension. Every SEO should have it on when they surf with their main Firefox profile...

rick gregory
June 2, 2007 - 2:02am

Hmm... I don't think Dave exploded, but he's right, and the parallel to Google is inaccurate.

The Javascript you highlighted gathers information without either the visitor's knowledge or permission. OK, what it really does is compare the visitor links in their history with a database of URLs that people have uploaded... but still, it does this with no notification at all and without asking permission.

Google, on the other hand, tells you this and even allows you to opt out of the search history feature at signup time. After that, you can pause it at any time.. in fact, I just paused mine. Oh, and that's just search history. To gather the full web history you have to explicitly download the toolbar.

If you don't get the difference between permissioned activity and one that's done without permission or even notification, well...

June 2, 2007 - 2:14am

If you don't get the difference between permissioned activity and one that's done without permission or even notification, well...

Use their search box and they probably store what data they can. It is no more anonymous than javascript collected usage data on a website, which Google also grabs without the website visitor's permission if the site happens to display AdSense or use Google Analytics.

Your response proved my point though.

jim
June 2, 2007 - 9:24am

Dave needs to drink a couple of beers. He might s**t his pants if he knew what Uncle Sam was doing.

Patrick
June 2, 2007 - 12:35pm

@Rick: I have to say, I dont find having the sites I visit tracked very cool, either. However, I think even if Google and Yahoo, etc. ask you for permission often it's done in a very subtle way, so users who dont know much about how the web work install it not knowing their search behavior is gonna be tracked. I doubt my parents have any idea, that this google toolbar on their PC is tracking what they do so Google can money from it.

@Aaron: How do you feel about the future of usage data? In your book you wrote it might become as important as linkage data some time, but somewhere on your blog you mentioned, that it wouldnt become as important as linkage data as it was too easy to spam. I think the post Im talkin about had to do something with the bathroom-sticker-spam mike grehan(?) once did. Anyways, just curious how you feel about the importance of usage data, now?

Btw, doesn't microsoft have a big advantage, because they have the internet explorer? Can't they collect data with it, too?

Hamlet Batista
June 2, 2007 - 10:01pm

small and harmless javascript that can be used to see which competing sites visitors visit before going to your site

I have to agree with Dave and Rick. This script is far from harmless. Not because of the way you suggest we use it, but because anybody can use it, even people with very ill intentions.

For example, phishers can use this information to check what online banks you visit and make their scams more effective. Read this.

The beauty of permission is that you know who you are giving your personal information to and who to sue if they decide to miss use it.

chris
July 4, 2007 - 3:40am

you know most websites just have a disclaimer that says they are collecting all sorts of personal information... and you dont even have to click on it.... link is in the footer and its assumed you agreed to it. ... FYI.

Aoleon The Mart...
June 3, 2007 - 8:38pm

What do you think of Google's book search - how they are scanning millions of books and now you can upload your book to the search service.

Would you allow Google to scan SEO Book? Do you think they are violating people's copyrights?

Aoleon The Mart...
June 3, 2007 - 8:38pm

What do you think of Google's book search - how they are scanning millions of books and now you can upload your book to the search service.

Would you allow Google to scan SEO Book? Do you think they are violating people's copyrights?

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