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.

6 thoughts on “ tracks your surfing and tells other readers you were there

  1. Donovon

    Wow! It looks like you made a splash, mybloglog has a post on their blog about your site and responding to the issues you brought up, good job! : )

  2. Jill

    Yes, they’ve responded fast and in a good way, I think, I’m happy! I hope they’ll also make the opt-out option more visible, and also make it clearer what you’re really signing up for as a user. There are lots of good things about their services (although I dislike the reader widget) and the rapid response is very reassuring.

  3. Ian Bogost

    Just as a follow-up, Eric Marcoullier, one of the founders of MyBlogLog is a friend of mine and a completely earnest guy. Doesn’t change your concerns, but hopefully a personal connection will offer some additional faith in their future plans.

    Jill, I was curious if you could say more about your distaste for the Recent Reader widget (is it just the privacy issue, or other factors)? Also, I’m curious how you feel about the blogs that do run it, even if you choose not to. We’ve been experimenting with it on Water Cooler Games for a while, and while the jury’s still out on its desirability for me, I hadn’t considered the possibility that it might turn my own readers off. What do you think?

  4. Jill

    This is from Scott Rafer, who got the dreaded 500 internal server error when trying to post his comment – I’m sorry about that, am trying to figure out what causes the occasional 500s around here.

    “Hi Jill, I responded on our blog, but I should here too. Thank you for pointing out the hole in the privacy policy. I’ll fix it. Please suggest text if you would like. Regarding “face spam,” please see my comments to the Zenrob post that you mention, particularly

    We owe our users a couple of features described there which address the issues that you raise. Please take a look at the implementation I suggest and let me know if you think it’s appropriate.”

  5. Jill

    Thanks, Scott, I appreciate your suggested changes, and as I commented on your blog, I pretty much think they solve the issues that concerned me. Ian, to be honest, I hadn’t actually noticed the Recent Readers thing. Maybe I only noticed it on le Meur’s blog because my own face was there – and I only uploaded my picture to mybloglog a few days ago, so until then my face wouldn’t have shown up. I guess now I know what it is and that I can opt out – and I have opted out – I don’t mind its being there. What I really disliked was seeing my information tracked in a way I did not think I had agreed to and that I was not expecting. It’s really just a privacy issue, I think – and the general point that I’d like the right to decide for myself whether or not people know I’m reading something. I don’t like that this widget tracks you before you’re aware it’s there. I click on your site, the widget reads me – now if the widget instead had said “click me to show people you were here too!” or something like that (so been opt-in every time) that would be a different matter entirely and I’d probably be more than happy to do so on most blogs I read.

    On the other hand – imagine that it got really widespread. Would I have to build a bot to “visit” sites in my name so as not to offend people I wanted to think read my blog. Imagine if I had one of these on my class blog, and I had the students sign up in class, and then started telling them off if they didn’t show up often enough on the class blog? Or if my boss had a blog and I felt that I had to visit it regularly to appease him/her.

    I do think the moral implications of tracking readers automatically, without their having specifically asked to be logged (as we do when we comment non-anonymously) might be taking us in a way I’d rather not go.

    At the current scale, it’s probably not a problem. Less of a problem if you’re sure that the people whose faces show up were aware that they were signing up for a panopticon of reading… And the changes Scott Rafer’s put in the privacy statement for will help with that.

  6. Mathemagenic

    NOAGGREGATE: what if I don’t want my digital bits to be connected at one place?…

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