The Eyes of Lots & Lots of Strangers

TechCrunch and the firms it hires to track your personal data.

TechCrunch and the firms it hires to track your personal data.

They are watching you.

And if you install Ghosterly on your browser, “they” will finally have names.

Names like KissMetrics, Quantcast, Google Analytics, ChartBeat and MediaMind.  These are just some of the many companies pilfering your data online.  They are watching and recording your every click and then selling it to corporations, governments and private enterprises – as well as the websites that hired them to do so.

It’s called data mining.  And its a $100 billion dollar industry.

In his book “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate our Minds and Persuade us to Buy,” marketing expert Martin Lindstrom describes it thus:

“Data mining – euphemistically referred to in the marketing industry as “knowledge discovery’ or “consumer insights” – is an enormous and rapidly growing global business devoted to tracking and analyzing consumer behavior, then categorizing, summarizing, and smoothing that data so it can be used to persuade and on occasion manipulate us to buy products. Data mining is how companies know not only your buying habits but also your race, gender, address, phone number, education level, approximate income, family size, pet’s name, favorite movie, and much, much more, creating what one expert calls a “mirror world” of us.”

Your information is sold to all kinds of companies: consumer goods, insurance, department stores, restaurant chains – you name the sector and likely they are buying all kinds of data from data mining companies.

Ghosterly is a free software you can download and attach to your browser.  It allows you to track the trackers.  Every time you visit a website, Ghosterly reveals the data miners lurking in the shadows and with a click allows you to read up on these companies and their policies.  You can also block them.

Admittedly, Ghosterly is creepy.  And a lot of people I’ve spoken to about the software have been adamant about not wanting to have it on their computers.  Better not to know who the Peeping Toms are, they believe.  But that’s not me.  I want to know even if it constantly reminds me that I’m not alone in my web browsing.

I recently conducted an experiment to see which websites track the most.  I choose five random websites:

  • The New York Times
  • TechCrunch
  • Wikipedia
  • J. Crew
  • Macy’s

The results may surprise you.  Because the winner – hand’s down – is TechCrunch.


It’s amazing that the data mining companies aren’t bumping into each other over at TechCrunch because the popular technology blog has a whopping 21 companies scooping up your data.  Let me repeat that.  Twenty-one.  TechCrunch is selling out their readers so fast and furious they must be getting dizzy over there.

The companies are: 5Min Media,, ChartBeat, DoubleClick, Dynamic Logic, Facebook Connect, Facebook Social Graph, Google +1, Google Analytics, Gravity Insights, isocket, LeadBack, Media Innovation Group, MediaMind, Omniture, Optimizely, QuantCast, Quigo AdSonar, Tocoda and WordPress Stats.

The creepy sounding isocket is described as: “isocket supercharges direct ad sales for the web’s best publishers. Websites…use isocket to package up their guaranteed “Class 1″ inventory and sell it directly to advertisers, using our self-service and in-house sales teams tools.”

The New York Times

I was disappointed that the New York Times came in second with a total of 11 companies tracking you.  So much for the news source that I trust the most – because they are selling my data without telling me.  The companies they have hired to grab your data are: BrightCove, ChartBeat, DoubleClick, Facebook Connect, Google Adsense, Insight Express, Krux Digital, Microsoft Atlas, New York Times, Scorecard Research Beacon and WebTrends.

The authoritarian sounding Krux Digital is described as: “Krux delivers a cloud-based data management platform that helps companies protect, manage, and monetize consumer data across all digital screens and sources.”

J. Crew

Nine different companies track you on J. Crew. They are Baynote Observer, DoubleClick Floodlight, Google Adwords, Google Analytics, Google Tab Manager, Monetate, Netmining, Omniuture and SearchIgnite.

Baynote Observer – which brings up memories of the BayCity Rollers – describes itself as: “Baynote is an ecommerce company, based in San Jose CA, whose dynamic personalization platform gives global brands a multiplier effect on conversion rates using existing ecommerce investments. Only Baynote helps ecommerce executives fully understand buyer intent, giving them the essential intelligence for engaging consumers with the right experience at the right time and responding faster to their ever-changing interests.”


Six companies are watching you shop and browse at Macy’s. They are Aggregate Knowledge, ATG Recommendations, BrightTag, DoubleClick Floodlight, MediaMath and Monetate.

ATG Recommendations is part of ATG Commerce, which was recently bought by Oracle: “For customers needing modular solutions, Oracle’s open architecture and multiple operating-system options also give customers unmatched benefits from best-of-breed products in every layer of the stack, allowing them to build the best infrastructure for their enterprise.”


Zero.  I repeat zero companies track you at Wikipedia.  Thank you, Wikipedia.  Thank you!


Are you concerned about data mining?  Does your lack of privacy online bother you?


Ghosterly website

Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom

5 Responses to “The Eyes of Lots & Lots of Strangers”

  1. Before we continue we need to examine your own ~Pot,Kettle, Black~ sins:)
    On your site are KissMetrics, Quantcast, Gravity Insights, Twitter, and the only semi-benign one, WordPress Stats.

    Having gotten that out of the way, and acknowledging your coming mea culpa, this is not new. I wrote these nuggets in 2000, back when the web was much slower than it is now.

    Yeah, this crap has been going on for a very long time.
    Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have pubic hair when I penned that.

    But the two big dogs in privacy invasion are Google and Facebook.

    Guess who owns DoubleClick? Google.
    Guess which browser sends every click and pageview information back to the Mothership?
    Google Chrome.

    But the king of the hill in privacy invasion is Facebook.

    Facebook – Emerald City’s Newest Sharecropper Network

    A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web – The Sharecropper’s Revolt

    Facebook Follies

    Facebook’s latest Privacy Violations, History Sniffing and Web Journalism.

    This is just a small taste of some of the privacy rape that Facebook commits on every site with a Facebook badge or Like Button..

    In addition to Ghostery you should run AdBlock Plus and Albine DNT.

    And stop believing in the fairy tale that cookies are necessary to surf the web.

    more later

  2. Hi Flopoke:
    Yes, I’m a black kettle-sinner, but I run a blog hosted by WordPress and most of the data collection is going to them – not me. It’s the price I pay for not building my own site. But, regardless, point taken.

    I agree about Google (and Facebook) being huge violators of privacy:

    The real question is what should be done? Most people don’t know how to install privacy software on their computers. Do laws need to be changed? Do terms of agreement need to be scrapped? What’s the real answer?

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