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Super (Data) Tuesday: What presidential campaign websites look like behind the scenes

As candidates spread across America today, glad-handing with voters in diners and American Legion posts trying to round up votes, they’re also trying to collect something else online: your data.

We did a quick scan of all of the major candidates’ websites to see what sorts of data collection and tracking is going on.

Most of the candidates’ sites were pretty sane compared to other things we’ve seen. But if the primaries were decided based on the number of tags and data collectors, the winners would differ from the candidates voters chose.

Ben Carson and Ted Cruz ended up on top. Carson’s site has 51 tags from 26 different companies, driven in large part by a MediaMath mathtag that performed programmatic cookie syncing with 15-25 third parties (depending on the pageview). He also had some sophisticated marketing tech and lead tracking sprinkled elsewhere. Cruz’s sites was less vendor intensive, but still had some lightweight ad-tech and several third-party scripts running as first-parties.

The most business-focused candidate, Donald Trump, had among the sparest websites from a data collection perspective. Perhaps, as Trump says on the stump, he doesn’t need any external help (although another billionaire pol, Michael Bloomberg, was renowned for the technical sophistication of his digital operations).

Incidentally, no endorsement is meant by any of this. Nor did we see anything on these scans out of the ordinary. But we’ll keep looking periodically, and if you see anything odd, drop us a line.

After the jump, you can see actual scans of each website, which includes both the candidate’s homepage as well as the donation page (or where it exists, a customized search landing page).

Read more>

Data Transparency Index: January 2016 scorecard for Internet data activities

mdti_dec_2015Earlier this year, Mezzobit began assessing how websites across the Internet engage in data collection, user tracking and other visitor interactions, using our insight into billions of transactions that flow through our systems each month plus scans of top digital properties.

Our Mezzobit Data Transparency Index is intended to provide consumers, enterprises and regulators a monthly barometer of how the digital world is trending. Here’s a detailed explanation that accompanied our first Index in January, which coincided with Data Privacy Day.

In the second edition of the Index, we saw a small amount of improvement in two areas:

  • Visitor tracking, which measures the use of technologies such as cookies and browser fingerprinting, dropped by one point (meaning that we observed slightly less tracking in our sample set).
  • Tag chaining, which happens when website code calls in other third parties, also decreased slightly month over month.

Both of these resulted in a corresponding decrease from 42 to 41 in the composite score, which averages all of the scores.

Is this cause for concern or delight among privacy advocates or digital enterprises? Not really, no more so than a single hot day makes a heat wave.

Normal website operations cause variations based on a number of factors. When you visit your favorite site, there may be different articles, ads, or products on any given day, which affects the type and quantity of third parties called into the page. As our analysis is driven by these little bits of JavaScript or images called tags, the scores will fluctuate.

What’s more important is the longer term trend. As new data collection and tracking technologies are introduced to the Internet, we’ll see upward pressure on some scores. Conversely, some site operators change their strategies to improve performance or scale back third-party tags, which will trigger the reverse. Our database is becoming larger every day, and we’ll soon publish breakdowns of these numbers into components for different types of sites and tag vendors.

If you have any idea or if there are questions you’d like us to answer with this project, please drop us a line. Read more>

Announcing the Data Transparency Index: the first global scorecard for Internet data activities

mdti_dec_2015Internet data collection, privacy, and user tracking have become hot topics, generating plenty of press and concern among consumers, enterprises and regulators alike.

But there’s a glaring hole in the coverage: What’s really going on behind the scenes, beyond the anecdotes of transgressions of technology companies or conflicting signals from industry conferences and government hearings?

Simply put, is the Internet trending towards a Wild West or a civilized society regarding how data collectors, consumers, and digital enterprises interact on websites and mobile apps?

To fill this gap (and celebrate Data Privacy Day), Mezzobit has created the Data Transparency Index: the technology industry’s first scorecard to use comprehensive data to benchmark these important questions on a global basis:

  • How much data is being collected?
  • How much user tracking is occurring?
  • How secure is data collection?
  • What else do Internet companies do when their technology is used on websites?

Mezzobit’s business involves monitoring billions of visitor sessions across thousands of websites each month, helping our corporate clients better understand and control data activities to optimize their digital properties. This puts us in a unique position to see what’s happening, something that few understand based on our conversations with thousands of corporate executives, regulators, and consumer advocates. Using our proprietary data and algorithms, we created a master composite index that rolls up five underlying scores that represent the current state of Internet data.

We chose the name Data Transparency Index as a contrast to the opaque and fast-moving nature of the Internet. We hope that greater transparency and accountability can lead to a more informed debate on the balance among consumer privacy rights, the need for digital enterprises to control how their customers are treated, and the use of data by Internet companies to power innovation and economic growth. Read more>

Snapshots of data: What the hidden world looks like

When the average person looks at an x-ray, he may see just fuzzy black-and-white regions where a radiologist can visualize intricate bodily structures and diagnose maladies.

As Mezzobit scans more and more of the Internet, glimpsing millions of tags cluttering up websites, we too have developed a gimlet eye for seeing order in chaos. Kind of a Big Data Rorschach test.

Our data science team is hard at work to turn this human knowledge into algorithms and heuristics that automate spotting anomalies and keep Mezzobit customers from having to develop expertise in this fast-moving area. While we love talking about it, delving into the nuances of data collector tag clouds can quickly disperse any cocktail party (trust us — we know).

In the interim, we have begun collecting postcards from this hidden world and will begin to share them on gallery associated with this post. We have purposely deleted any labels identifying the sites or data collectors that glom onto them to keep things friendly. But if you corner us at the aforementioned party, we’ll be happy to break out the Director’s Cut with all the gory details.

If you have a site that you’d like to see posted here in all its anonymized glory that may top the assembled specimens, shoot us a note and we’ll check it out. Or better yet, sign up for our Audience Value Platform so you can do the same scan yourself and send us your own snapshot. Read more>

Simplifying reporting on tag activities: Mezzobit tag indices

The hidden world of Internet data collection and tracking is indeed wild and woolly.

Mezzobit has observed hundreds of thousands of different tags across tens of billions of transactions. We’ve catalogued more than 200 possible attributes and actions for each tag. The average website has 30 third-party tags, so for a site of 100 million monthly pageviews, that’s 3 billion individual tag firings.

How do website operators find actionable intelligence in all of this to create positive business results? Unless you spend your waking hours thinking about this world — like we do — it’s nearly impossible. (And even then, it’s not a walk in the park.)

Which is why Mezzobit created our tag indices, which assimilate all of this information into a series of easy-to-understand scores that range from 0 to 100. These are used in our Audience Control Module, which monitors tag activity in every web browser transaction as well as scans external websites.  Read more>