The group Consumer Watchdog is pushing hard for Congress to establish a “do not track” list for online consumers, which I’m all for. I’m not sure whether releasing a ridiculously unpleasant cartoon in Times Square is the right strategy, though–especially when you use the very service you’re warning people about.
For one thing, Eric Schmidt looks like he might be the Joker, and without audio–the way you’d watch it in Times Square, in other words–you can’t really tell what he’s doing. (Is the ice cream poisonous? Is he a government agent?) Another problem, if you actually listen to the audio, is that the video shows Schmidt luring kids to an ice cream truck and then telling them about their parents’ sexual behaviors, which I don’t think is one of Google’s free services yet.
But the worst is that Consumer Watchdog uses Google Analytics to track users on its own website, notes the San Francisco Chronicle, which is the service the cartoon explicitly calls out with an on-screen graphic (see 1:02 in the video below). Worse, it doesn’t warn people about this as soon as they visit the site the way, for example, All Things D does. (If you’ve visited All Things D before and don’t see the yellow box, you can read the same text here.)
In the world of online tracking, Google Analytics is actually fairly innocuous; to my knowledge it stays focused on incoming traffic and the user’s browsing behavior within the site, not all over the web. Still, if you’re going to make Google’s CEO look like a child-endangering perv to thousands of Times Square tourists every day, it seems to me you should stop making use of the company’s sophisticated user-tracking services.
Update: Jamie Court, the president of Consumer Watchdog, sent in the following response:
Never got a call from the “Business Insider” about their “Busted…group uses analytics” piece but the fact is, as I explain, in the voice mail, our backend platform on Consumer Watchdog hardwires Google analytics into the site, and its a proprietary platform owned by Edelman Communications, bought recently from Grassroots Enterprises, that we cannot control or later. We don’t see eye to eye with Edelman on many issues and have been in the process of leaving that platform for months. The move should be complete by November, and we will be on an open source system that, like our Insidegoogle.com platform, or Oilwatchdog.org open source platforms, chooses to avoid Google analytics.
The exercise shows how hard it is to escape Google on the Internet, or know Google is behind many products and services. Most people think of it as a search engine, but it’s a lot more, which is why we are so concerned about its power and growth and established
InsideGoogle.com. We didn’t choose to have Google Analytics on our back end of our main site, nor do we use data it provides, and we cannot take it off, but we can switch to an open source system, which avoids Google Analytics, and we are in the process of doing just that.
“BUSTED: Anti-Google Privacy Group Consumer Watchdog Is Tracking Your Clicks With Google Analytics” [San Francisco Chronicle]
“Consumer Watchdog Group Goes After Google” [New York Times]