Tag Archives: media6degrees

AddToAny: removing the “spy” from the share-ware

Update 02-2015: the information below does not reflect the way AddToAny works now and as such only has historical value. The comment by A2A’s developer below, explains what has been done between 2010 and 2015.

After discovering AddToAny secretly enrolls all of my blogs visitors in a behavioral marketing platform, I disabled the plugin and mailed the author for more information. He answered the media6degrees-integration was a partner-test, only providing them with non-personally identifiable data, which the company indeed can use for targeted advertising. But the good news was that AddToAny would also offer a “publisher opt-out mechanism” shortly. And indeed, last week, Pat announced the brand new a2a api and mailed me the following opt-out code;

var a2a_config = a2a_config || {};
a2a_config.no_3p = 1;

These two lines of javascript, which have to be placed in front of the http://static.addtoany.com/menu/page.js script-include, should disable all current and future 3rd party tracking. I hope the web-guys from e.g. deredactie.be and standaard.be (and there are many others) implement this as soon as possible!

So now we can opt-out from having our visitors being spied upon by media6degrees, what more could one want? Well, since you’re asking, here’s a small list of things AddToAny could really should do;

  • transparency; tell users that their visitors’ information will be shared with 3rd parties (in all relevant places)
  • documentation: show them how to “remove the spy” on the AddToAny api page (“no_3p” isn’t there)
  • ease-of-use: allow the tracking to be disabled with a simple checkbox in the WordPress and Drupal plugins

The opt-out code is a important first step and I’m sure concerns such as those voiced on the WordPress-forums will help AddToAny to further make the right decisions!

AddToAny removed-from-here

Update 02-2015: the information below does not reflect the way AddToAny works now and as such only has historical value, read this comment by the developer for more info.

When looking at my blog’s performance in Google Webmaster Tools I saw Google complained of multiple dns-lookups. I knew about stats.wordpress.com, google-analytics.com (well, yeah …) and gravatar.com, but one domain in the list didn’t make sense to me at all; media6degrees.com, so I started to investigate a bit. Grepping the wordpress-, theme- and plugin-code on my server didn’t reveal anything, so I went into Firebug to see what was happening in javascript.

Apparently the AddToAny WordPress-plugin was initiating the call:

  1. add-to-any requests http://static.addtoany.com/menu/page.js (which is rather big but gzipped & cache-able)
  2. page.js in turn contains tracking (near the end of the file), by requesting an 1X1 pixel image at http://map.media6degrees.com/orbserv/hbpix?pixId=2869&curl=<encoded URL of page>
  3. media6degrees then sends the pixel and … sets multiple cookies in the process

And what’s media6degrees business you ask? Maybe they’re just providing the add-to-any author with statistics? Well, not exactly. This is what media6degrees writes on their website: “We deliver scalable custom audiences to major marketers by utilizing the online connections of their consumers.” So by using AddToAny, you’re providing media6degrees with data about your site’s visitors, which they can use to sell targeted communication to their customers.

If visitors of small-time blogs like mine would be the only ones affected by this, the damage would be limited. But AddToAny is also implemented on large local news-outlets such as deredactie.be or De Standaard Online and no doubt on some big international sites as well. Somehow I doubt those organizations know they’re feeding their visitors to media6degrees and I bet some of them would even strongly disagree.

I’m not happy about this, that much is clear. AddToAny offers great functionality, but:

  • it adds unneeded requests to my page, causing the page to finish loading later (dns-request + http-request)
  • it enrolls my site visitors in a targeted communication platform without anyone knowing (or agreeing)
  • none of this is communicated on the AddToAny website or on the AddToAny WordPress plugin page

I mailed the author about this earlier this week (when i didn’t even know about media6degrees tracking cookies yet), but got no feedback up until now and I logged an issue on the wordpress.org support forum as well. And I decided to pull the plug on AddToAny off course, replacing it with sociable, making my blog render yet another millisecond faster, while at the same time protecting my visitors from this sneaky behavioral tracking by AddToAny and media6degrees.