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Internet Strip Searches

Every time I go through airport security, I think about a blog post I read a year or two ago where the passenger stripped (and filmed herself with her camera phone) going through security as her protest to what she considered extreme measures on the part of the TSA.  I have to start by admitting that I don’t have any problem with airport security.  I don’t mind extra questioning, I don’t mind my bags being searched, I don’t mind having people peek at my panties through an x-ray machine.  It doesn’t offend me; it doesn’t freak me out.  I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either.  It sort of just is and I accept that if I want to fly, it’s a part of flying.

I admire those who are offended by it who choose to protest, but it’s never going to be a fight I’ll take up because I think TSA does a fairly decent job.

I know a lot of people do have a problem with TSA and feel their rights are being violated whenever they fly.  It’s a matter of privacy — they have nothing to hide, but they don’t necessarily want TSA peeking at the vibrator in their bag.  It’s a matter of decency — they have no problem stripping down for the doctor, but they certainly don’t want a TSA employee peeking at their junk on a screen.

I think those feelings are valid too even if I don’t share them.

But that isn’t really what this post is about.

What I find interesting is when people raise a rebel yell about privacy in regards to flying (and a while back, when TSA introduced the new machines, there were a slew of articles and blog posts about privacy being violated), but they have sitemeter or statcounter or google analytics on their blog; all technology that negates another person’s privacy.

I say this without judgment — I have no problem with sitemeters (I’m going to use this term to collectively refer to all blog stat programs) — but it is a discrepancy that I think is worth a discussion.

Sitemeters and the TSA invade your privacy in much the same way.  In both cases, you are pretty much anonymous (I doubt the TSA agent remembers me five seconds later, and only the person who checks my ID knows my identity), though tiny facts are learned about you.

Without a sitemeter, if I came to your blog, read and left, you’d never know.  But with that technology, you know my IP address, you know where my service provider is located, you know how long I was on your site, which posts I clicked to read.  With some programs, you can label an IP address and start counting how often a certain person is on your site (though this is an imperfect system since most people read from multiple devices/places).

It is impossible to fly without having your privacy compromised by TSA, and it is impossible to surf the Web without having bits of your journey recorded by various sites.  It is one thing when I am a nameless entity interacting with another nameless entity such as Amazon.  They are not taking my choices personally.  It’s just a business; and keeping track of what I do on their site helps them hone their business.  The same thing with the TSA — I’m just a flyer.  Once they have checked me, they forget about me.

But blogs are different.  It is another thing when I am someone you know interacting with someone I know, such as… you.  Sometimes we do take other people’s choices personally.  Though I don’t believe I’ve ever had someone tell me that they thought I was on their site when I wasn’t; I have often encountered someone thinking that I wasn’t reading simply because they put too much stock in the abilities of their sitemeter.  And with a sitemeter, my IP address becomes linked to my email address and all other information that you know about me — something that big businesses can’t always do due to sheer volume of traffic.

I know some will be reading this and shaking their heads about this side of blogging.  I often shake my head when I think about the far-reaching arm of technology.  I also — akin to my feelings about the TSA — have little problem with having that side of my Internet privacy compromised.  I don’t mind if you know that I was on your site and didn’t comment.  I don’t mind if you see how long I spent (don’t judge; I’m a slow reader sometimes when I’m thinking).  I don’t mind if you look at the other posts that I clicked on to read.

I don’t love it; I don’t beg for it to happen, but I also understand that just as the TSA is doing so to keep me safe and not because they want to violate my privacy for the gleeful satisfaction of violating my privacy, most people spy on their readers not for the sake of keeping tabs on various people’s behaviours, but instead to learn something (fine tune their blog, see what people are interested in).

I am curious enough about where people stand on privacy issues that I created this poll below.

If you can’t see the embedded poll, you can also click here to fill it out on Google.  I’ll have the results of the poll in a post soon.

There may be those who wholeheartedly disagree that sitemeters are a violation of privacy on par with the TSA (and feel free to try to convince me — I want to discuss this).

But in both cases, the only way around having someone know many details about you is to opt not to participate — to either not fly or not use the Internet (and yes, there are private planes just as there are identity concealing ways to surf the Web, but I’m going with the general state of things vs. the outlying measures).  If you’re going to fly or surf the Web, there will be people peeking into your life.  Into your bags or into your Internet tendencies.  And while I don’t have a problem either with the TSA employee seeing that I’m reading Harry Potter yet again or have you see that I just read your most recent post, I often wonder why people have a problem with one thing while actively engaging in the other.

Is curiosity — assuming that is the driving force behind having a sitemeter — more noble than perceived safety (since the point of TSA is to protect travelers regardless of whether or not you agree that it works)?


1 Betty M { 08.31.11 at 7:21 am }

Perceived safety is more important to me although I expect some would justify the use of sitemeters etc on safety from trolls etc reasons. By the way the poll insists you answer the software question even when you say you have no software in the previousquestion.

2 SurlyMama { 08.31.11 at 8:14 am }

I have a statcounter on my blog and occasionally check it. I don’t particularly look for individuals or try to figure out who has been there. I did for awhile when my blog was “private” meaning that I didn’t let my family and real life friends know about it. And then I would just scan IP addresses for any I could identify as coming from my town. It gave me a since of security knowing that no one in my real life had discovered my secret (that I was trying to get pregnant and couldn’t). Now I mainly just like to see what they like reading. I find it interesting that whenever I write about my dogs the stats go up on both my blogs (one blog is about my journey to motherhood, one is about bikes). I also like to see where people are linking from. I’ve been able to trace back to blogs I didn’t know about and therefore expand my blog roll, and I’m curious how many of my bike blog people come over to my baby blog. And I’m some what of a numbers geek. I love numbers. I like looking for patterns. Which days of the week do people visit the most? Thing like that.

3 a { 08.31.11 at 8:31 am }

I have Google Analytics, but I only check it for those fascinating keyword searches. Except mine are never fascinating.

I mildly object to removing my shoes at the airport, because that’s kind of gross. I understand the need for security, but I hate to give up my privacy for security. It’s one of those slippery slope things – where you go from airport pat-downs to governmental intrusion in every aspect of your life in one swell foop (as they say). I don’t think the TSA system is perfect, but it’s what we’ve got and it’s better than nothing.

I am really not fond of the internet tracking that’s done…especially because it’s not very transparent. How many people realize what those sitemeters are keeping track of? When I first started using the internet, I just thought they logged views of a webpage. It’s only lately, when I saw that people were using that information in tracking down their trolls and such, that I realized that it’s much more like my employer’s network. Everything you do can be tracked. I don’t especially want companies or the government or marketers knowing where I’ve been and what I’ve been looking at. Unfortunately, it’s inescapable.

4 April { 08.31.11 at 8:39 am }

I have a feed tracker on my blog that I forget about most of the time. I rarely check it and probably should take it off because I don’t use it and I doubt anyone else cares who travels to my little corner of the internet.

As for blogs that have them, it doesn’t bother me. I admit that most of the time I’m reading through my Google reader and don’t always click over to the actual blog unless I wish to comment on the post. This probably alters the stats as well because I’m still reading their post, but I’m not clicking on the actual blog to do so.

As for TSA, I don’t like the scans, but I live with them. I don’t fly very often and each time, the security has increased because of different regulations put in place. I’d rather live with the increased security and feel safer on the plane. It just means that I have to check what I can put in my purse for crafting before packing.

5 Angie { 08.31.11 at 8:53 am }

This post could not have come at a more apropos time, because I just thought about my sitetracker for the first time in a long time. I received an email from a friend calling my grief a cottage industry, and angry because I mentioned her, indirectly, in a blog post. Our of respect, I took down the post, but I hadn’t realized she was reading my blog. In the early days, when I was hyper aware of who was reading, I could tell which friends were reading, because I looked at my site meter stats. I just stopped doing that because I no longer saw there cities or places of work pop up. I share the most vulnerable bits of me on my blog, which perhaps is strange. I don’t know. I am all discombobulated. I am taking a few deep breaths right now, stepping back from my blog for a few breaths and Facebook and trying to figure out why I write in such a public way about such a private thing. With love and appreciation for this post.

6 leah { 08.31.11 at 9:21 am }

I monitor traffic to ensure there isn’t traffic coming from dodgy sources cause I have pictures of my kids on it. It’s far from a foolproof measure but one of the compromises I make with myself. I closed a personal blog down after a dodgy search term led someone there.

It’s good to raise these issues, too many people are oblivious to what can be known from their online activity. Even just to let people know who’s behaviour is influenced for the worse by anonymity – makes the net a better place.

7 Sarah { 08.31.11 at 10:16 am }

I have something like that. Whatever comes with blogger. com. I check stats occasionally just to see if anyone has stopped by my blog. I went along time without any comments, so I looked to see if anyone was stopping to read. And I had my blog for probably 6 or 7 months before I even knew about this feature.

8 magpie { 08.31.11 at 10:35 am }

i understand the need for airport security, and i have sitemeter. i’m totally lame about it and i never check it, except sometimes to see the weirdass google searches. also, i know for a fact that the IP address for my office shows up as a completely unrelated organization – though that may be only because i have free sitemeter and not something more robust. check it if you can, and email me your result. i freaked at least one blogger out by commenting from work…she thought i worked somewhere i very much don’t. 🙂

9 Alexicographer { 08.31.11 at 11:42 am }

I don’t blog so I don’t have an opinion from a “blogger” perspective. I am curious, though; I sometimes use Google Chrome incognito (not specifically for the purposes of blog reading). If I’m coming from an incognito window, how much or how little do you see about me?

The (very) few times I’ve wanted to see a website where I haven’t wanted the owner to know I was there at all, I’ve gone to the google cached version. I think that is a different site and means I won’t show up at all — or am I wrong about that? Obviously it means I don’t get the most current version of something, but it is a way to look at a site without going to that site — or is it? Seriously, I am too clueless to be sure (and too uninvested in protecting my privacy to have found out).

10 Mrs. Gamgee { 08.31.11 at 12:08 pm }

I have a google analytics account, and I confess I used to be a little obsessive about checking it. Now here’s my super geeky confession… I was checking where my readers were from, because I wanted to have readers from all 50 states, and all 10 provinces. Yes, I could kind of figure out where some specific readers were from but, it was pirmarily just for curiosity’s sake.

The whole TSA thing doesn’t bother me much in principle. In practice it just sucks… (could they PLEASE provide a seat or two for folks who wear lace up shoes???) especially when you have a small child in tow. I just see it as a necessary inconvenience.

11 Rachel { 08.31.11 at 1:43 pm }

I lived in Israel for a year. The security they use at their airport (and, by El Al when flying to Israel) is so different than the whole “take off your shoes, pour out your bottles” and yet, thank Gd, is seemingly more effective. I think that is what annoys me. There seems to be this random-ness about the searches here…and half of the time, I’ll be on a flight and realize that something “contraband” got onto the flight with me…which makes me nervous.

When it comes to site meters, all I know how to use is to see what searches got people to my site that day and how many people have looked at my blog. That is enough for me…I think if I knew who my audience was (outside of my bloggy friends) I would tailor my writing (if, for instance, I figured out that my MIL had found my blog) and then it would no longer be true to me. And that’s what I need the most…the freedom to be open without fear of judgment.

12 loribeth { 08.31.11 at 3:07 pm }

I just have the stats tool on Blogger. I don’t think I could figure out individual viewers from that, but it does give me an idea of what my most-viewed posts are, key search words, etc. I’ve been meaning to do a post on what I’ve learned from there — maybe for my blogoversary!

I don’t mind the idea of you seeing me pop on your sitemeter. But the idea that corporations, governments, my employer, can track everything I do online, that kind of creeps me out a bit.

13 coffeegrljp { 08.31.11 at 4:07 pm }

I love stats. I just do and my sitemeters give me that. Also, I don’t object to being patted down etc. (assuming it’s done respectfully and so as not to terrify my children). I do wish it could be done with a bit more grace sometimes (in Japan they give you slippers when you have to remove your shoes – how nice is that?). I’m not overly paranoid about my privacy, but do think I’m wisely cautious. I don’t want my accounts hacked, money stolen, or identity robbed. If I can keep those things from happening I’m not too worried about what people see about me when I’m browsing the web and commenting. I am more circumspect about what I share on my own blog and in the past I did worry once about whether my sister’s feelings might be hurt if she read my blog, so maybe I’ve become even more circumspect since then…

14 Mo { 08.31.11 at 7:44 pm }

Living in Israel, I’m used to getting my purse searched each time I go into a restaurant or a mall. I have very few issues with the sitemeter issue. I use it often to find out who is reading me and commenting, and making sure I reciprocate by following their blog. You can always go into the whole “big brother paranoia” spiel. But at the end of the day, if you’re smart about the way you share your details on the web, there’s really no violation in it, at least in my opinion, it drives the community, and helps people connect. (Not to mention a sometimes-needed ego boost when you look at your hitcount on a post you’re particularly proud of. But I guess that has nothing to do with the privacy issue ahh well).

15 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.31.11 at 8:40 pm }

I don’t mind people using analytics for their own eyes, but what bothers me is the geographical tickers posted on some blogs. I live in a pretty uncommon place, and whenever I see a geographical ticker it makes me refrain from posting a comment since the time of the comment could be linked to the timing of my location’s appearance on the ticker by any reader.

16 Mina { 09.01.11 at 1:30 am }

I used to have a sitemeter and I would check it only to see where people were reading my blog. I think it was the kind of geographical meter that Baby Smiling inthe Back Seat is bothered about. 🙂
I don’t have it anymore, because I fiddled with the layout and am just too lazy to put it up again.

I am also not bothered by the security search. I have never had any bad experiences, on the contrary.

I am bothered though that google repeatedly asks for my phone number “for security reasons”. Dude, stop it, ain’t gonna happen. Enough that you scan my emails and offer me stuff with key words from them and in the language they are written. And please don’t get me started about google collecting data about private wireless connections and IPs while doing the street view thing. You used to be THE thing, google. Now you sold your soul just like the others and are now their team leader.

Rant over.

17 Kimberly { 09.01.11 at 2:40 am }

I have never had a problem with security clearances at airports. Its not a perfect system, but they are doing what they think is best to make sure that all are safe. So if it means a body scan or pat down and they give you an option, I’m fine with that. It just simply means that they are doing the best that they can within their means to make us feel safe in the sky. With that, I also don’t take it as a personal attack if someone has to do it. The people working in airport security have a thankless job. But at the end of the day, its a job. They don’t remember you once you are cleared through but they get a lot of flack for doing their job.

When it comes to site tracking, this is new for me. I had a livejournal account for years, and I enjoyed the idea that I could control who read my entries by creating security levels on each individual post. Only recently have I moved to blogger and I’m just learning about stats and blogger in general. Right now, I am rather fascinated with the blogger stat tab, but its because its new and shiny and all I really care about is whether people are reading my blog or not. It’s nice to know whether people are reading your words in your tiny little corner of the internet. I don’t really care about the other stats and honestly don’t care if my stats are being tracked on sites I visit. By visiting any site on the internet you run that risk. By moving into blogger as my main source of posting, I have resigned myself to the fact that I no longer care if things are private. I’ve come out about our infertility so I don’t feel the need to hide. I take precautions when talking about friends or loved ones by giving them new names or referring to them by initials and that works for me. To each their own. But if you post online or read blogs online in any way shape or form, you should just accept that tracking happens and if you don’t want it to, you just don’t do it. Everything you do on the internet is trackable, whether it be your internet searches, your browser history or through outside trackers on individual sites you visit. If you don’t want to be tracked, then why are you even on the internet? And I believe that the same thing goes for travel. If you don’t want to be searched like that, then don’t fly. There are other sources of travel out there that are less invasive to your privacy.

18 Battynurse { 09.01.11 at 4:49 am }

I think I started the whole site meter thing when I read someones posts on what sort of searches brought someone to their blog. And I never figured out how to make it work that way. I did use it for a while to see if a certain couple of people were reading my blog but that was years ago. Since then I’ve used it briefly after I got a particularly nasty comment in January of this year and I had to really work to get back into it as I never wrote down my password. As far as airport security? I don’t mind it at all except for the time involved. Gone are the days of getting to the airport 3o minutes before your flight. Now it’s 3 hours and travel takes so much longer.

19 Battynurse { 09.01.11 at 4:50 am }

Oh and whoohoo!!! I finally made it through all your posts. Now on to Kristin’s 30 something posts.

20 JustHeather { 09.01.11 at 5:34 am }

I don’t mind the security checks at airports. I understand what they are trying to do (whether it works 100% or not) and it is definitely easier to knomw about what is going to happen, prepare for it and go along with it than to fight it. I have seen people pitch fits (years ago and more recently) and it didn’t get them anywhere. The security people just got annoyed of trying to explain calmly over and over and the passenger more irrate. In the end, the guy had to remove his belt and shoes anyway.
Why bother?
The only time I’ve ever been thoroughly patted down (the lady swiped between and under my breasts) was the time I wore a bra with metal underwires. The security lady was very professional and that was that.

I have whatever sitemeter Google uses on their Blogger site. I didn’t even think to check it for a long time after starting my blog and I haven’t checked it recently either. When I do check it, I just love seeing the fact that someone(s) is reading my blog! I also find it interesting to see which posts people look at the most. Now that I’ve read this post of yours, I think I’m going to go back and take a deeper look at what posts have gotten more hits and see if I can figure out why and see if I can reproduce it.

Reply/in addition to Baby Smiling in the Back Seat; I think the geographical tickers are ‘interesting’. I haven’t ran into to many people in this IF-community form Finland, so I’m sure when I see Finland on someone’s site, it is me. But the funny part of it (to me), is that the town mentinoed has always been several hundred km away from where I actually am. Maybe if it showed my exact town, I’d be a bit more cautious, maybe not.

21 Jennifer { 09.01.11 at 6:44 am }

I use my site meter to check traffic and to see the countries my readers are from; as an expat writing now and then about expaty things it’s interesting to me to see if I’m reaching that audience.

The current rates of airport security tick me off because they are extreme, reactive rather than proactive and actually well thought out, and lead us to believe that if only we give up just a few of these teeny tiny rights over here we’ll all be safe for ever and ever. There is no perfectly safe and there is no total security and trading rights for supposed security is a dangerous game to play. (That being said, I go along and don’t raise a fuss because it will do not good. But I find the whole thing invasive.)

I see a very significant difference in that I can choose to read blogs or not, but many people have no choice but to fly. If you have a captive audience, you can make them bend to your will is the thinking I guess.

22 Denver Laura { 09.01.11 at 12:19 pm }

One guy – ONE GUY unsuccessfully tried lighting his sneakers and now we all have to take them off. I don’t mind metal detectors, the xray machines, etc. But I should have to take off my shoes.

Every time I fly with beer and check the luggage, it gets a hand search by TSA. The fact that somebody went through my luggage without me even being there creapes me out.

I think the backscatter machines aren’t safe. Although I opened my mouth when asked to submit to a scan I quickly shut it and walked through.

I have a scanner on my blog. Since I started blogging about foster care, I wanted to make sure that my kid’s parents or case workers weren’t reading it. I know well enough to not blog about specific cases, etc. but complaining about the system isn’t something I care to have the parents know.

I also use it to see if my account is being hacked by someone in another country.

23 Erica { 09.01.11 at 1:24 pm }

My blog came with a sitemeter, and I admit that I do check the stats sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve ever drilled down to see how long someone has spent there, and I’ve never looked at the IP addresses, either. I do like the feature that tells me how poor unsuspecting people have landed on my blog via search terms in Google, but mostly for amusement purposes.

As for the TSA, I’m ambivalent. I don’t protest, but I do have real concerns about whether or not newer restrictions, searching and scanning methods have actually resulted in safer flying. My checked luggage gets hand searched so often that sometimes I wonder if I should toss in a vibrator or two just to give the poor TSA agents something interesting to find besides my boring cotton underpants.

24 It Is What It Is { 09.03.11 at 10:25 am }

I have ClusterMaps, feedjit, and Google Analytics. My husband is an IT guy so there. I generally look for the number and to see if a particular post garnered more traffic. I haven’t even look at GA and have no idea where the data is stored, how to access it, or what it means.

As for flying and the subsequent (inconvenient) safety measures, since when did taking a flight become an inalienable right?

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