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ISPs scramble to explain mouse-sniffing tool

Would you trust faceless corporations with your, er, mouse movements?

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Sky Broadband has been caught using JavaScript to track every click and shuffle on its support pages, but it's not alone: other ISPs have also admitted recording every frustrated wobble of the mouse on their support pages.

Readers at ISP Review spotted Sky using a JavaScript tool called SessionCam to record rodent tracks on its support pages, but the Murdoch-owned telly company said it doesn't think it's doing anything wrong, while BT also happily told ISP Review that it does the same thing with a similar product called ClickTale.

Sky told the website that data stored by SessionCam is "transferred to a secure environment using SSL encryption and secured using numerous levels of control at an application, data and infrastructure level".

ISP Review is, of course, only concerned with ISPs, but the practice of logging one's activity within a website is far from limited to that industry. For example, Crazy Egg – an outfit which promises "The Astonishing Power of Eye Tracking Technology... Without the High Costs" – counts eBay, Amazon and Dell, among others, in its customer list.

Crazy Egg produces heat maps showing where mice hang out, how far down the page visitors scroll and which bits they spend longest reading. It's not perfect – it can't tell if you've paused to read some text or were interrupted by a human visitor – but it can give a general impression to aid page design.

This is nothing new. Some shopping centres track visitors (as groups) to establish their browsing habits. Companies such as Path Intelligence track every mobile phone in a shopping centre (anonymously, as they have no access to, or – so they say – interest in customers' details) to see how long a window display grabs one's attention or the order in which shops are visited.

Websites have always taken a huge interest in users' behaviour, and gained from the ability to record every click, but is recording every mouse-shuffle a step too far?

Those using the technology don't think so, and while the dancing of a mouse pointer might not seem important, the ability to track one's eyes (to see which advert is being viewed) is already available and slipping into mainstream products. Perhaps we should be working out how much we're prepared to share before we start sharing it. ®

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