Site Meter

Our Millionth Visitor

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11 Responses

  1. Kate Litvak says:

    Big milestone it is.

    But somehow if feels really creepy that you guys know that much about people who spend just a couple of minutes on your site and don’t even attempt to leave a mark in the comments.

    So, here is my Grand Blog Privacy Proposal. Someone should write a code that would block site owners from getting this sort of visitor information. Then, a bunch of bloggers should get together and create a new organization, Blog Privacy Org., which would loudly certify bloggers who use that software. Sort of like the Good Housekeeping sign of approval; you can put it on top of the blog page. If a blogger cheats, some computer wiz can catch him, with disastrous consequences to the reputation of the blogger and his outlet.

    Does this make sense? Other things equal, many of us would strongly prefer blogs whose authors don’t trace our whereabouts. Not that I am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes read Co-Op or anything.

  2. Doug B. says:

    Kate: Why is the availability of this information somehow “creepy”? Why should basic internet data related to voluntary visits to a blog be private information?

    I see far more benefit — to both bloggers and blog readers — from having this information available than from having it blocked. I do not care if my cyber-whereabout are traced, and others shouldn’t either, unless they are doing something improper (like surfing for nude picture of Jennifer Aniston when at work).

  3. Doug B.: “doing something improper” is not the only reason why privacy is important. Read solove’s May 23 post “Is There a Good Response to the “Nothing to Hide” Argument?” and his book “The Digital Person” for furthr insights.

    My general response to this post is that for casual surfing, this kind of information is routinely collected by sites. You can block certain information by disabling Javascript etc., or go through anonymous proxies (e.g., Tor) for more privacy. But it’s not privacy-friendly to republish this kind of information with full IP addresses. Even though this person may not actually (still) be at this IP addresss, we can find out more things, such as that this IP address currently has an open Telnet server port open (and possibly others). In theory, with a full IP address available, one could potentially do some hacking. Not that one couldn’t do this to any random IP address, but perhaps we shouldn’t congratulate this visitor by highlighting him as a target.

  4. I blogged about this issue a while back — about how Sitemeter stats reveal a lot about who visits various blogs. In responding to a post by Lior Strahilevitz at U. Chicago Law Faculty Blog about “symmetrical privacy,” I wrote:

    This is an interesting idea. We have something like that here, and so do many blogs. It’s called Site Meter. We can see how many of you are visiting and learn information about you. It’s quite interesting. Although we don’t learn your names, we can see what institutions you belong to, where you’re located, how many pages you’ve viewed, and more. Is this “symmetrical privacy” – we give you information on this blog and we get to see information about you? Actually, everybody can see this information at our Site Meter. You can too by clicking here. We’re all in a big fishbowl, and visits to this blog (and many blogs) are not totally private. Now, that’s symmetrical! I’ve always felt ambivalent about Site Meter. I am fascinated by the information about the visitors to this site, but it has always made me feel a bit like a voyeur.

  5. Garrett says:

    My first reaction to the posting of a visitor’s IP address was also surprise. I don’t like the idea that my information is available to strangers. In a situation like the above, where anyone visiting the site has access to my information, I would feel very uncomfortable: what if a hacker disliked a comment I left on such a public website and decided to punish me for it?

  6. Although on our blog and many blogs, visitor IP addresses are regularly displayed publicly in sitemeter stats, I have edited the post to block out the IP address from the screen shot. There’s no reason to call attention to our millionth visitor’s IP address.

  7. E. Richardson says:

    I share Kate’s discomfort with panopticon.com, and her comment has made me reconsider the use of a site meter on my own site. Apart from the privacy concerns, eliminating the counter would spare me the perpetual let-down of seeing just how few people ever visit. Though I do feel compelled to note that one recurring visitor, from an IP address in Austin, Texas, shows up now and then from a Google search for “Kate Litvak”.

  8. Kate Litvak says:

    Dan, I am quite stunned that a privacy advocate like you would opine that an author has (or should have) the right to “identical symmetry” – which, as I understand, is the “right” to know who reads his writings. Should a porn star have a right to know the identities of people who buy Hustler? Should a maker of every embarrassing gizmo have the right to know the identities of his customers? I hope not, at least not without specifically asking those people first – or at the very least, not without clearly and unambiguously informing those people that the information is being collected BEFORE they make their purchasing decisions. For the same reason, I see no good cause whatsoever for YOU to have a right to know the identities of people who visit your site – without specifically asking those people or without even explicitly informing them about your activities.

    If you are a true privacy advocate, you should take down the SiteMeter and put a large sign on the top of your page “Attention! This site does not record any information about you. We promise.” Or, if you can’t help snooping at other people’s private lives, put a warning: “Attention! Your IP, location, and the referring site will be recorded and displayed publicly. Do you wish to proceed?” Try the latter and see how your traffic dwindles. But I am hoping that you’ll do the former and set a bandwagon rolling for other bloggers. Someone has to start it before the government decides to intervene.

  9. Kate Litvak says:

    I meant “symmetrical privacy”, not “identical symmetry”, booo.

  10. Kate,

    I don’t know how you conclude that I’m advancing the idea of symmetrical privacy, when all I was saying was that Lior’s idea was “interesting” and that I’ve “always felt ambivalent about Site Meter.” I never attempted to defend the symmetrical privacy idea, so please don’t attack me for something I’m not arguing. Nor would I describe myself as a “privacy advocate.” I certainly take pro-privacy positions, but there’s a difference between doing this and being an advocate for a cause.

    As for the use of Site Meter, it is an interesting question about whether this should be understood as a privacy violation. It definitely can reveal information about a person, yet the person’s identity is still not revealed — only an IP address. Although that can be linked to a person, it generally requires a court order to an ISP to do so. Certainly, there are probably some visits where the search terms, IP address, and location might reveal the identity of the person, and this is a concern, though it is a rare occurrence. I do think, however, that it is generally known that any website can record the basic information contained in Site Meter. Even without Site Meter, stats are recorded. Site Meter displays them publicly, but they disappear after a day or two. Does this make it perfectly alright? No. It is an interesting question as to whether our blog, and many many others, are engaging in a privacy violation, and if so, how extensive the violation is, how it balances against the benefits of having the information (part of the allure and reward of blogging is seeing the stats about readers), and what steps ought to be taken to address it. Right now, however, in the larger swing of things, I’m not yet convinced that there’s enough of a problem to take any of the actions you recommend.

  11. Kate Litvak says:

    Dan, I am glad you are not indorsing the “symmetric privacy” thing; I took your continuous endorsement of Site Meter as the sign of approval.

    If you don’t think Site Meter is a privacy violation, give your readers a chance to opt into your Site Meter thing, and you’ll see how many enjoy being watched. Again, the problem isn’t just that you collect and publicly display information that can be linked to certain individuals (no court order needed, just a little analytical thinking). The problem is that you never ask your readers’ permission or even tell them in any clear fashion that you are doing it. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve always found the use of Site Meters and especially the public posting of results incredibly distasteful, and your posting of the IP info of the 1M visitor only intensified this feeling. That visitor should really be glad he didn’t get here from the “naked Jennifer Anniston” search! (By the way, the “but snooping on other people is one of the joys of blogging!” argument isn’t likely to win friends).

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