Why is the Liverpool Echo spying on me?
Five years later, how are website ads and trackers doing?
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Over the next few weeks, I’m diving into some old–some very old–articles from yours truly. Since I’ve been writing on the web for more than 15 years, I want to explore how things have changed (and how they haven’t).
Original article date: June 25, 2017
Updated and expanded: October 11, 2022
Commentary from the original article…
I was cruising around the web the other day researching iPadOS 16.1 features when I landed on imore.com:
By the time I closed and navigated all the different ads and pop-ups, I forgot why I even landed on the site.
Which reminded me of an article I posted a few years back based on the liverpoolecho.co.uk website.
I was reading up on Liverpool FC when I realized there was an inordinate number of trackers attached to my browser once I landed on the Liverpool Echo website.
More than 40 trackers were picked up using Ghostery!
I mean, that’s absurd. What does a media organization like the Liverpool Echo need with all that tracking? Were they even doing anything with it?
This morning, using Safari’s built-in privacy report, I visit The Liverpool Echo website to see what, if anything, has changed.
This time I was *only* being tracked by 14 trackers:
Is it amusing that the first tracker listed in the report is named adsafeprotected?
Makes you wonder what happens to a site–a business, its people–when all this technology goes away, whether through privacy regulation or user adaptation.
The original article, lightly edited…
Back in January of this year, I tweeted at the Liverpool Echo Twitter account (@LivEchoNews) asking about all the tracking on their website:
— Wil A. (@wiljr) January 12, 2017
I included two of the Echo’s journalists that I follow – you can see in the tweet thread that they aren’t even sure what all that nonsense is.
Here we are, more than 6 months later, and the Echo has removed less than 10% of its website tracking code.
Why on earth does the Echo continue to need so much tracking code on its website?
Let’s highlight a handful of these scripts and see what their purpose is.
Google Publisher Tags
Integral Ad Science
Adobe Dynamic Tag Manager
Eyeota (Behavior Tracking)
Facebook Social Graph (Widgets)
Google AJAX Search API (Search, Widgets)
Lotame (Lead Management)
Pinterest (Social, Widgets)
SkimLinks (Affiliate Marketing, Other)
Taboola (Video Player, Widgets)
VisualDNA (Segment Data)
Maybe this bloated script strategy is common on all news websites. Let’s take a look:
BBC: 7 scripts
Manchester Evening News: 20 scripts
Russia Today: 9 scripts
The New York Times: 17 scripts
Hmm. That’s not looking good.
Maybe those websites that provide soccer news have a more aggressive script strategy Let’s take a look:
WorldSoccerTalk: 11 scripts
ESPNFC: 14 SCRIPTS
How about this website?
wiljr.org: 4 scripts
Editor’s note: This site, thenewcommunicator.com, has even less with 3 scripts
What’s the big deal?
That’s a good question.
Who cares about all this scripting and coding and “stuff”?
As a reader, you should.
This should be extremely important to you for several reasons:
It’s a shitty experience. Every time you visit The Liverpool Echo, 41 different requests are made to a third-party site (see scripts, above) to add some type of functionality to their website. 41 times! Is this enhancing your experience when visiting their website? (Ps: It’s an awful experience.)
What are they doing with all this data? Behavior tracking? 19 scripts for advertising. NINETEEN! What business is The Liverpool Echo in if they need all these scripts? Here’s my guess – their web team likely tried a bunch of tracking scripts and never really turned them off. They may not be using them anymore. Or, maybe they are? I don’t know. I’m just visiting.
Do you trust them? If it is true that they tested some of these scripts in the past but aren’t using them anymore, then why don’t they remove them? Is that best practice? Do the old scripts remain on their site in case they want to use them again? It’s sloppy management. The data they are tracking you with is poorly managed. Or, maybe they are using all 41 scripts to track different parts of your visit to their website. Still sloppy. Immensely so.
Why am I writing this?
I’m a Liverpool FC supporter. I follow James Pearce and Neil Jones on Twitter. I listen to Blood Red, the podcast from the Liverpool Echo.
I’d like to visit Liverpool one day and see a game at Anfield.
I do website stuff all day. Every day. So this stuff is important to me.
Collectively, we should be focused on visitor experience, not what we might potentially do with some data.
I do marketing stuff all day. Every day. Brand. Trust. Relationship. Engagement. All that stuff. It’s important to me.
I want to be a paying customer of the Liverpool Echo through Anfield Extra.
I want the Echo to succeed!
Unfortunately, I’ll just keep coming back to the site, and have a shitty experience until one day I just give up. I’m moving in that direction – I save most of the Liverpool Echo articles I want to read to Instapaper, stripping away all the scripts and noise.
By the way, that’s a shitty experience, too as it removes images and videos. The Liverpool Echo’s site is that bad.
And I can’t be the only one. As more and more users install ad blockers and more companies build anti-tracking features into their browsers, what will happen to these sites and institutions?
That can’t be good for anyone.
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