Tag Archives: tracking

Online apps and social media platforms heavily track your behavior, without your consent

Are you being tracked online? New research says yes — especially on the largest social media platforms out there.

Applications like YouTube and TikTok track your digital movements with more than a dozen first- or third-party tracker software. These are ‘invisible’ stretches of code that allow for the gathering of user behavioral data even when said users opt-out of sharing their personal information. The findings come from an analysis performed by Atlas VPN, a private company offering virtual private network (VPN) services, which help protect user anonymity online.

Although Atlas VPN has a vested interest in these results — as a company that sells products that work directly against tracking software — their report does align well with the hushed suspicions many of us harbor in regards to digital platforms. The findings are also validated by being part of a larger study of 200 iOS apps conducted with Apple’s Record App Activity feature.

Tracked

“Internet users are starting to care more and more about their privacy, which challenges app developers to engage customers using first-party data strategies and tools,” said Vilius Kardelis, Junior PR Manager at Atlas VPN. “Currently, customers cannot see what data is being shared with third-party trackers or how their data will be used, creating a lack of transparency between the brand and the consumer.”

According to the company, YouTube contains 10 first-party trackers and 4 third-party trackers; TikTok, on the other hand, has 1 first-party and 13 third-party trackers. The difference between these two types of trackers is where they beam back the data they collect. First-party trackers send it back to the application’s domain (so, for example, one on YouTube will send it back to Google, which owns the platform), while third-party trackers send it to some other domain. The last kind is particularly concerning for most people, as the ultimate destination of the data is not shown to users, nor how it is going to be processed and used.

Social media applications analyzed in the study averaged around 6 trackers; Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, and Messenger were the most modest offenders, containing a single tracker each.

TikTok recently became the most popular website worldwide, snatching that distinction from Google late last year. As such, the high number of trackers it uses, especially third-party ones, is particularly concerning. The website is also owned by a Chinese company, and all Chinese companies are required by law to provide any data that the Chinese government requires. What exactly TikTok does with all that user data is, obviously, not clear.

Data for the above-mentioned study, of which these results are also part, were obtained using Apple’s Record App Activity feature. This allows users to track which apps on their device connect to networks. Each of the studied apps was downloaded, started up once, and not registered, to determine a beginning set of connections.

Unsurprisingly, in the last few years, businesses selling powerful proxy services or VPN services have boomed. A proxy service (whether it’s an individual proxy or a datacenter proxy) acts as an intermediary between a user and the server while a VPN extends a private network across a public network, enabling the user to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if they were using a private network. This increased demand in proxies and VPNs comes down to better technological infrastructure and capability, but it is undeniably driven by increased demand from the public for internet anonymity and privacy. Findings such as these validate this consumer desire, showcasing the incredible extent to which our behavior is tracked and monetized online without our consent.

Oh, and if you thought social media was the worst offender, think again. These apps, in fact, made the fewest network connections among the 20 categories of apps that the study investigated. Apps by magazines, news, and sports applications made the most with 26, 21, and 18 connections upon download respectively. Most of these were third-party trackers.

There’s no reason to believe that companies will track us any less in the future. Such behavior is a lucrative business and, unless customers and lawmakers don’t push against it, companies are unlikely to give up a golden goose.

Dog nose.

Dogs create a mental image of what they’re sniffing for

Dogs will be surprised, and a little confused, if the scent they’re trailing doesn’t match what they find.

Dog nose.

Image via Pixabay.

Dogs are awesome. Not only are they fluffy and quite cute, but they can also use their noses in ways that put us simple bipeds to shame. However, while the keenness of their scent has been known since antiquity, the question of whether or not they understand what they smell hasn’t been answered.

A smelly type of smell

That’s what a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena set out to discover, and their results suggest that dogs create a “mental representation” of what they’re tracking via scent trails. This means that our furry friends understand what they’re sniffing, form an expectation of the ‘target’, and will show confusion if that expectation isn’t met.

[Further Reading] They also hate hugs.

The team worked with 48 dogs, 25 of whom had undergone training either with the police or as part of a rescue team, while the other 23 were family pets without any special training. The canines first participated in a pre-test, during which the team identified two toys that each dog showed a preference for when asked to retrieve.

For the study proper, each underwent four trials. The dogs were tasked with following a scent trail drawn with one of the two toys for each trial. At the end of the scent trail (in an adjacent room) the dogs found either the toy used to lay down the trail (normal condition) or the other one identified in the pre-test phase (surprise condition). Half of the dogs involved in the study were allocated to the normal condition, half to the surprise condition.

“From my experience in other studies, I had assumed that the surprise would be measurable, in that the dogs would behave differently in the surprise condition than they would in the normal condition,” explains lead researcher Dr. Juliane Bräuer.

“In fact, quite a few dogs showed interesting behavior, especially in the first round of the surprise condition, which we called ‘hesitation:’ although they had obviously noticed the toy, they continued to search via smell, probably for the toy that had been used to lay the scent trail.”

This surprising effect was short-lived, however: while the animals hesitated in the first test, they went right ahead in subsequent runs. The team believes this could come down to the nature of the study, as the dogs were rewarded by playing games no matter which toy they found, which positively reinforced retrieving. Alternatively, it could come down to smell contamination from previous test runs that permeated the room, despite the researchers’ efforts to clean it.

Still, Dr. Bräuer believes the results of the first round are a solid indication that dogs form a mental representation of the target they’re sniffing out, which means they have a concrete expectation of what they’re going to find.

Finally, the team reports that while police and rescue dogs were expected to (and did) retrieve the toys faster than family dogs, by the fourth round the two groups performed equally — an effect that Dr. Bräuer remarks as “interesting”. Next, the team is going to focus on clarifying the connection between smell, search behavior, and cognition in dogs.

The paper “A ball is not a Kong: Odor representation and search behavior in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) of different education” has been published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

Design

The Science Behind Modern Web Design

In the past century, science has served as an important tool for entrepreneurs and marketers alike. Studies of how certain environments, product offers, and designs can affect consumer decision making have popped up in psychology and business journals across the globe. In this article, I would like to cover a few web design methods that have benefited from knowledge ascertained through scientific research.

Eye Tracking

Eye Tracking

Eye Tracking

In psychology labs, a novel technique, referred to as eye-tracking, has uncovered much about what human beings focus on and miss when navigating through websites. On average, people have a propensity for focusing on the top left-hand corner of a webpage. The main sections of the website are a hot target as well. Most people will look towards the home, about us, and products/services pages to make a judgment on what the website is about. So, it can be deduced that web designers should put their most relevant information on these specific pages. Woocom a web design agency in Perth

Colour

Design

Design

Color has also been known to have an effect on how human beings make judgments. Red, in particular, is a good color for call-to-action buttons on a webpage. It has been hypothesized that choosing a color that really stands out will increase the traffic to those pages. It does not necessarily need to be red, but it should not just blend in with the rest of the webpage, because this may cause users to completely neglect the call-to-action button, thereby decreasing the amount of traffic on the website.

A/B Testing

AB-Testing

AB-Testing

 

A couple automated software testing and A/B studies have uncovered that webpage traffic increases when photos of human beings are utilized, as opposed to using graphics and cartoons. Other notable studies have shown up to a 90 percent increase in visitor engagement when inanimate graphics are swapped with photos of humans. These effects may be due to the emotional connection users can feel when viewing another human being.

Decision making can be a very quick process, so it is important to grab the attention of webpage visitors immediately. Studies have shown that, on average, humans make their decision to continue on a website in 3 seconds or less. Thus, it is paramount to clinch users before they decide to move on. Designers must make sure to clearly convey their message in an organized and interesting manner. A good idea would be to include a video on the home page of a website, which activates upon the user visiting the site. Videos have a way of grabbing users that has forsaken the use of words. Its a good idea to use an agency such as Woocom a web design agency in Perth that embraces all these techniques to make your web site modern and up-to date sites that just use text and static images are less persumasive to the viewer.

Familiarity & User Trust

Furthermore, familiarity goes far when it comes to users trusting and relying on products and information from a website. Although it is important to be creative, designers should also bring a sense of familiarity to the patterns and designs used on their webpage. With familiarity comes trust, so it is very important to follow webpage templates that have worked for popular websites in the past.

In summation, there is much to be said about the science behind decision making and web design, but, for the most part, looking to popular websites for inspiration will usually lead to an increase in webpage traffic.