[nycbug-talk] FreeBSD & Google Analytics

Pete Wright pete at nomadlogic.org
Sun Dec 9 22:54:13 EST 2012

On 12/9/12 6:50 PM, Glen Barber wrote:
> On Sun, Dec 09, 2012 at 09:40:41PM -0500, George Rosamond wrote:
>> The same day of my little rant at the last meeting, here's some very
>> timely news:
>> http://lists.freebsd.org/pipermail/freebsd-announce/2012-December/001441.html
>> Now certainly you can get a lot out of their analytics.  Information
>> that can be useful in the interests of users, and spawn improvements in
>> web sites, like FreeBSD.org.
>> But as I argued, nothing is free.  And when anyone claims anonymity by
>> policy, you are trusting their word that it's true, trusting their
>> lawyers that they can defend the data, etc.
>> While not as disturbing as the Amazon/Canonical/Ubuntu spyware, it is
>> certainly an ugly turn, IMHO.
> Google Analytics was chosen for administrative reasons.
> We are honoring the DNT header _before_ the Google Javascript is
> fetched.  Additionally, we are anonymizing the accessing IPs.
feel free to ignore this rant...

Glen - thank you for point that out!  I've been following the thread 
regarding this on chat@ and it's been driving me up the wall.  I feel 
like there has been a lot of FUD surrounding this announcement, along 
with a side order of "there are all these great open-source analytic 
engines they could use" w/o providing on concrete example of what they 
are, or how to implement them, or even an offer to provide such a 
platform to the freebsd project.

is google doing super sketchy things that is frankly taking the internet 
in a direction that a majority of technologists find apprehensible - 
yes!  and even worse i work in the same industry to feed my family!  the 
current state of using the WWW as a platform to monetize on personal 
browsing behaviour is certainly not what I wanted the web to turn into 
back in the early/mid '90's, and I certainly think we are all partly 
responsible for letting things get to this point.  it sucks, but we 
can't put Pandora back in her box at this point unfortunately.

but...having said that - I think we need to take a deep breath here.  i 
really don't think an .org like FreeBSD has the financial or human 
resources to implement an OSS version of GoogleAnalytics (which seems to 
be a frequent cry on chat@, i.e. "freebsd should do this themselves").  
I think the announcement is pretty clear on the benefits that GA has 
over a homegrown or home-managed implementations.  my reading of the 
announcement is that this is an effort to ensure that www.freebsd.org 
(and specifically its already excellent documentation) is relevant for 
end users.  by using a tool like GA, the volunteers are able to ensure 
their limited resources are spent in an intelligent manner improving 
documentation as well as the website with a relatively minor investment 
in gathering data on usage patterns.

i can't speak for the internals of GA personally, but the general 
proposition is that google has always leveraged the economy of scale to 
their advantage.  in the case of GA is it not only the crazy amount of 
computational power they own - but the amount of data that they are able 
to mine to generate interesting insights into browsing behavior.  it is 
not clear to me if people are either offended that:

a) google performs data-mining *really* well
b) the fruit of this mining will be used to improve the documentation 
that is produced by freebsd

The FUD surrounding the fact that freebsd.org is going to mine your 
personal data regardless of your personal preferences seems to be off 
base as per this snippet from post to a thread on chat@ that shows what 
the .js will look like that enables this functionality:

if (window.navigator.doNotTrack !== "yes") {
      ( function() {
          var ga = document.createElement('script');
          ga.type = 'text/javascript';
          ga.async = true;
          ga.src = 'https://ssl.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
          var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
          s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);


so this looks pretty good - if you set your browser to announce you 
don't want to be tracked, then don't track me.  perhaps FreeBSD.org 
should post an announcement for first time users letting them know about 
the use of GA, and offer advice as to how to enable doNotTrack.

my argument can be boiled down to like so:
let's use this as an opportunity to educate users about behaviour 
tracking, and allow people to make decisions on their own as rational 
agents.  this shit ain't going away, so lets shine some light on it and 
expose both the positives and negatives, and hopefully we'll create some 
better educated users in the process.


Pete Wright
pete at nomadlogic.org

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