tracks your surfing and tells other readers you were there

Screenshot of the mybloglog blog's recent reader widgetHave you seen It’s a site that provides stats about your blog and that also has a social network thing set up. I can upload my photo and specify that I read Boing Boing or Water Cooler Games and from there, others can see I’m “in” those “communities” and so on. I’m not too enamoured of those features, but the stats are kind of useful. For instance, I saw that someone had clicked on a link to how to reference video games I’d forgotten about, but when I went to look at it, the link was broken – so I fixed it. That’s nice.

Anyway, I was reading Loic le Meur’s blog (he founded, which hosts 15 million blogs, and runs Six Apart’s European division) and suddenly as I scroll down the page I saw my own face there, under “Recent Readers”. The face image I uploaded to OK, that’s kind of a cool gimmick, but I didn’t sign up for my face to be shown each time I read a blog. I mean, I don’t care either way whether people know I read Loic le Meur’s blog, but there are certainly websites I visit that I do NOT want my image permanently afixed to so everyone who visits that website thereafter can see that I was there.

So I went to to figure out how to opt out of this. But they don’t mention the feature on the site, as far as I can see – not in the FAQ, not in the Privacy Statement, not in the Help. Perhaps they’re still developing the feature and haven’t released it generally. The official blog about also has the feature, with a slightly different layout, but I couldn’t find instructions on how to install it or any discussion of privacy and ethics.

At Zenrob, I found a post that raised concerns that the Recent Reader Widget, as it’s apparently called, attracts spam. One of the “recent readers” on his site was a picture of two women kissing, which leads to a sexually explicit blog. Zenrob found the link to their site inappropriate content for his blog. Now imagine that blog has the Recent Reader Widget too – if I click on any link leading to their site, knowing its content or not, my face will be shown to future readers of the site as a reader. Do I necessarily want that? The rhetoric of it is that I’m a supporter of their content – the header for Scott Rafer’s Reader widget is “MyBlogLog has a posse…”. Simply by reading his site with the MyBlogLog cookie on my computer, he adds my face and identity to his “posse”, to his list of supposed supporters. That’s like forging my signature on a petition just because I happened to pass by.

For now I guess I’ll just stop allowing cookies from – they do have an opt out for data-collection, which stops your face showing up, although they don’t make it clear that this is what you’re opting out of.

23. September 2006 by Jill

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