Over the years I have linked to many books from this blog, usually to an Amazon page with an affilliate link. In the early days (2003-2004) of such affilliate links I made 70 USD at one time, and then nothing. Over time linking to Amazon, links that included a tracking pixel for years, became less helpful for readers to find books, and more helpful for Amazon to track readers.

I stopped linking to Amazon last year April, but this blog still held the links I previously made. When I deleted my Amazon affilliate account they gave me a gift card with the outstanding balance: 35 cents. They still got their tracking on the links I used here though, so those links needed to go. Removing such links isn’t much work, but I wanted to maintain the usefulness of my postings, by linking to an author’s homepages, Wikipedia entries, as well as to the publisher’s page, Wikipedia page, Internet Archive or Open Library page for their books. That work does cost time, and is now finished. I no longer link to Amazon on this blog anywhere (nor Amazon’s Goodreads), and no Amazon tracking pixels remain.

I do still buy e-books from Amazon, although that too is ever so slowly shifting to other sources (directly from publishers for instance). It’s just that I no longer send any website visitor’s data their way as well.

Early last year I wrote about how I don’t track you here, but others might. Third party sites whose content I re-use here by embedding them have the ability to track you to a certain extent. Earlier I already stopped using Slideshare and Scribd completely as a consequence, self-hosting my slide decks from now on.

For photos and videos the story is slightly different. Where it’s not essential that a video can be viewed inside my posting, I simply link to it with a screenshot, thus avoiding that YouTube or Vimeo tracks you on my page. In other cases I still embed the video.

For images I have been using Flickr since 2005. Back then uploading images to my hosting account quickly depleted the available storage space, and Flickr always was a good way to avoid that. I have and am a paying customer of Flickr, even through the years it was also available for free. Flickr is my online third place storage of images (now over 26k), as well as the place where I share those images for others to freely re-use (under Creative Commons licenses).

Embedding my Flickr photos here provides them with the opportunity to track views to the embedded images. The 2005 scarcity in storage space on my web host package is no longer a concern, whereas reducing readers’ exposure to tracking in whatever shape has become more important.

So from the start of the summer vacation I have stopped using Flickr embeds, and all images are and will be hosted on my webserver. The images do link to their counterparts on Flickr. In the case of my own images to point to re-usable versions of the photo, and the rest of my images. In the case of other people’s images I re-use to point to the source and its author. As before I will keep using Flickr to store and share photos.

Over the almost two decades of blogging I’ve embedded hundreds of images from Flickr, and I haven’t replaced those yet. Over time I will. It will become part of my daily routine of checking old postings made on the same day as today.

It makes ‘I don’t track you (but others here might)’ tilt some more towards ‘I don’t track you’ period.

In the past few weeks I came across several links to ‘Nitter’, each on different domains. Nitter, it turns out, is a web front-end to see Twitter without Twitter being able to track you.

It shows you public Twitter pages, after stripping out tracking and JavaScript etc. You can’t login through it, or see the things that depend on your own Twitter account (like DM’s and private lists), nor post through it. It is merely a way to see the Twitter site while wearing surgical gloves.

Twitter has been fighting third party apps for its services because it threatens their tracking and advertising, so they want to keep you inside their walled garden. Which is why they closely guard who and what has access to their API. Nitter doesn’t use the API, so Twitter doesn’t have their hands on the off-switch.

This is useful for seeing some of the things others link to, like the increasingly annoying habit of tweets being added to ‘journalism’. (“Politician x said something and Twitter wasn’t having it”)

It is also very useful that it provides RSS feeds for all Twitter content (users, #, and search terms).

You can run your own instance, and there are browser plugins that redirect any Twitter link you follow to a Nitter link replacement.

For now I found a Dutch instance (on this list), and will see if adding some RSS feeds through them is workable.

My public Twitter profile seen through Nitter

Bookmarked Only 9% of visitors give GDPR consent to be tracked (markosaric.com)
Privacy regulations such as the GDPR say that you need to seek permission from your website visitors before tracking them. Most GDPR consent banner implementations are deliberately engineered to be difficult to use and are full of dark patterns that are illegal according to the law..... If you implement a proper GDPR consent banner, a vast majority of visitors will most probably decline to give you consent. 91% to be exact out of 19,000 visitors in my study.

GDPR and adtech tracking cannot be reconciled, a point the bookmark below shows once more: 91% will not provide consent when given a clear unambiguous choice. GDPR enforcement needs a boost. So that adtech may die.

Marko Saric points to various options available to adtech users: targeted ads for consenting visitors only, showing ads just based on the page visited (as he says, “Google made their first billions that way“), use GDPR compliant statistics tools, and switch to more ethical monetisation methods. A likely result of publishers trying to get consent without offering a clear way to not opt-in (it’s not about opting-out, GDPR requires informed and unforced consent through opt-in, no consent is the default and may not impact service), while most websurfers don’t want to share their data, will mean blanket solutions like ad and tracker blocking by browsers as default. As Saric says most advertisers are very aware that visitors don’t want to be tracked, they might just be waiting to be actively stopped by GDPR enforcement and the cash stops coming in (FB e.g. has some $6 billion reasons every single month to continue tracking you).

(ht Peter O’Shaughnessy)

I much like Laura Kalbag’s “I don’t track you” declaration on her blog. She links to that post in the footer of her webpages.

As Laura Kalbag says it’s “as much a fact as a mission statement“. I would definitely like to be able to say the same, because it’s important as a signal, as a statement that the web does not need to be what the silos as advert delivery and manipulation vehicles make it to be. But for this blog it isn’t fully a fact.

I do not track anything anyone does on my site. But others in some instances do. This is the case where I embed material from elsewhere. Although often what I embed is still my own content, such as photos and slides, they are served from the likes of YouTube (Google), Flickr, and Slideshare (LinkedIn). The primary reason for using such services is storage space. Presentations, videos and photo collections tend to be large files, filling up the allocated space in my hosting package quickly. And of course there are occasions where I do want to show content by others (photos and videos). Especially in the case of images, showing other people’s content here is very deliberate, based on an obligation to re-use.

This means that I am an enabler of the tracking that such services do when you visit my blog. To be certain, you have a personal responsibility here too: your browser is your castle, and that Castle Doctrine of browsers means that you should already actively block tracking in your browser. However, I also have a responsibility to not expose visitors to tracking where that can be avoided.

So how to avoid tracking? What alternatives are out there? Here’s a list with the services from which this site over the years has embedded material.

  • YouTube (Google): I did not know this until I looked for it today, prompted by Laura Kalbag’s blogpost, but Google provides a setting with embedded YT videos that disables tracking and serves the video from a different domain (youtube-nocookies.com). This is what I will do from now on, and I will go through my older postings to change the embed code in the same way. [UPDATE September 2021: I have removed all YouTube embeds and changed them to linked screenshots.]
  • Flickr: I use Flickr a lot, it’s both my off-site online photo backup, as well as an easy way to post images here, without taking up hosting space. My tracking detection tool (Ghostery) does not find any trackers of embedded images, provided I strip out some of the scripting that comes with an embed by default. This stripping of superfluous stuff I routinely do, and is in my muscle memory. [UPDATE August 2021: I am replacing all Flickr embeds with locally hosted copies, linking to their Flickr source. Ongoing]
  • Slideshare: this I think needs replacing. A Slideshare embed always comes with a Google Analytics tracker and a 3rd party beacon it seems. There is no way I can strip any of that out. It’s a good idea to do without Slideshare anyway, so need to search for an alternative. I might go for my own cloud space, or start making my slides differently, e.g. in HTML5, or find some other tool that I can attach to a private cloud space, and allows easy sharing with others.[UPDATE Oct/Nov 2020: I deleted my Slideshare account and am bringing those presentations to a hosting package and domain I control]
  • Scribd: this one definitely needs to go too. Embedding a Scribd document adds Google Analytics and a Facebook tracker, and curiously still a Google+ tracker too, though that service no longer exists. Again, need to search for an alternative. Same as with Slideshare. [UPDATE Oct/Nov 2020: I deleted my company’s Scribd account, and am in the process of bringing those documents to a self-hosted environment]
  • Vimeo: this video embedding service does not add trackers as far as I can tell from my Ghostery tracking monitoring plugin. [UPDATE September 2021: removed all Vimeo embeds, replaced with linked screenshots]
  • 23Video: this platform has pivoted to corporate marketing videos and webinars, and no longer supports casual embeds like in the past. I will need to go through my archive though to clean up the postings where I used 23Video. [UPDATE cleaned up]
  • Qik. This was a live streaming video service I used around 2008. The domain is no longer active, and any embeds no longer work. Will need to clean up some old postings. [UPDATE cleaned up]

So, from this list, Slideshare and Scribd stand out as the ones adding tracking features to this site, and will need to go first [UPDATE Oct/Nov 2020: removed]. So I’ll focus there on finding replacements. Flickr and Vimeo are ok for now, and Youtube for as long as they respect their own privacy settings. Flickr and Vimeo of course don’t have your data as their business model, whereas YT does, and it shows. Once I’ve removed the tracking functionality from embedded content, what remains is that any call to an outside source results in your IP being logged in that outside server’s logs, and by extension your user agent etc. This is unavoidable as it comes with connecting to any web server. The only way I can avoid such logging is by ensuring I no longer use anything from any outside source, and hosting it myself. For my own content that is possible, as for images I re-use from e.g. Flickr (by serving the image itself from a server I own, and otherwise just linking to the source and creator. As I did with the image below), but hardest for re-using other people’s videos.

Tracks of footprints in the snow, image by Roland Tanglao, license CC BY