Feeds

How ComScore can track your mouse clicks

Explores stream of unconsciousness

Boost IT visibility and business value

There's one question no one thought to ask: How did comScore know that all those paid clicks had disappeared from the world's largest search engine?

In late February, the well-known web research outfit unveiled a particularly juicy report claiming that Google's paid-click rate was on the wane - at least in the States. Judging from Google's eventual response, the report wasn't too far from the mark. The search giant acknowledges that paid clicks are down, insisting it's on a mission to improve "the relevance" of its online ads.

Over the next several weeks, tech-happy pundits spent countless columns debating the effect of this click dip on Google finances - which turned out to be no effect at all - but nobody stopped to wonder where comScore's data came from. Or why it hit so close to Google's home.

Heck, the Reston, Virginia-based comScore has churned out such numbers for years, and for years, the press has largely overlooked its behind-the-scenes practices. Which is odd. This is a publicly-traded company with a $600m market cap - an outfit that just posted a record $26.4m in first quarter revenues. Plus, it's a story worth telling. Those behind-the-scenes practices are more interesting than you might imagine.

ComScore logo

comScore's logo

comScore tracks the online movements of more than two million people in 170 countries, including a million in the US. Thanks to its very own tracking software - sitting on end-user PCs from Japan to the UK - it sees not just Google ad clicks, but every other breed of internet usage, from audio and video streaming to secure web sessions. That's right, secure web sessions. If a user visits an online banking site or a health records site, comScore sees what the user sees - and it sees what the user types.

And it often knows the user's name. Even if multiple people use a machine - Bob, his wife Jane, and their daughter Sue, for instance - comScore can tell one from the other. You see, the company also tracks mouse movements and keystrokes, identifying the telltale habits of each user. Nine times out of ten, it doesn't just record that Christmas Amazon purchase. It records who made it.

Naturally, comScore says that users must actively download its software and explicitly agree to such tracking. "They must provide not just consent but affirmative consent," Josh Chasin, comScore's chief research officer, told us during a recent phone interview. "They must affirm that they've read our privacy policy." But that tells only part of the story.

There are documented cases where third-party operations have installed comScore's software without consent. And even when users do give the OK, they may not realize what they're consenting to - as is so often the case with web-based user agreements. We can't help but wonder, for instance, if most users realize that comScore knows who they are even they decline to say who they are.

As Chasin explains, the company reserves the right to match a user's internet activity with additional personal data from credit reporting agencies like Experian and Equifax. If the user keys his address into a web form, for instance, the company may take that address to an outside firm, retrieving the user's race, his gender, the size of his household, and more.

The essential guide to IT transformation

Next page: Permission Research

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
Trans-Pacific: Google spaffs cash on FAST undersea packet-flinging
One of 6 backers for new 60 Tbps cable to hook US to Japan
Tech city types developing 'Google Glass for the blind' app
An app and service where other people 'see' for you
UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom
Regulator swallows this line and parrots it back out at us. What are they playing at?
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.