I wrote Alexa, Valuable Tool or Technical Stalker? and the post generated a good discussion that I thought warranted follow up.
Alexa.com is a service run by Amazon.com that collects traffic information about your site. A browser must have a program installed that will report back to Alexa.com. This service reports your traffic in comparison to other sites on the web. This can be an excellent tool to help determine how your blog is doing.
How Alexa.com Works
To understand the role of these different services, let’s take a look at how the Alexa service works. As you browse different web pages, the program you’ve installed on your computer, collects information and sends it to Alexa.com. There are two programs, that I know of, that will report information back to Alexa.com, the Alexa Toolbar, and SearchStatus for Firefox. Thanks to David Airey for the heads up on the SearchStatus extension.
ALEXA’S TOOLBAR SERVICE COLLECTS AND STORES INFORMATION ABOUT THE WEB PAGES YOU VIEW, THE DATA YOU ENTER IN ONLINE FORMS AND SEARCH FIELDS, AND, WITH VERSIONS 5.0 AND HIGHER, THE PRODUCTS YOU PURCHASE ONLINE WHILE USING THE TOOLBAR SERVICE. ALTHOUGH ALEXA DOES NOT ATTEMPT TO ANALYZE WEB USAGE DATA TO DETERMINE THE IDENTITY OF ANY ALEXA USER, SOME INFORMATION COLLECTED BY THE TOOLBAR SERVICE IS PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE. ALEXA AGGREGATES AND ANALYZES THE INFORMATION IT COLLECTS TO IMPROVE ITS SERVICE AND TO PREPARE REPORTS ABOUT AGGREGATE WEB USAGE AND SHOPPING HABITS.
IN ADDITION, WHEN YOU PERFORM SEARCHES USING THE SEARCH FUNCTION AVAILABLE ON ALEXA’S TOOLBAR SERVICE SOFTWARE VERSION 6.5 AND HIGHER OR ON THE ALEXA WEBSITE, YOU OFTEN WILL BE TAKEN TO A WEBSITE DETAIL PAGE AT AMAZON.COM. IF YOU HAVE AN ACCOUNT ON AMAZON.COM AND AN AMAZON.COM COOKIE ENABLED, YOUR SEARCH RESULTS WILL BE TRANSMITTED TO AND LOGGED BY AMAZON.COM AND MAY BE CORRELATED BY AMAZON.COM WITH ANY PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION YOU MAY HAVE PREVIOUSLY PROVIDED TO AMAZON.COM.
. . . If you are visiting the Alexa website (alexa.com), we collect the following information: the full Uniform Resource Locator(“URL”) of the Web page from which you came to alexa.com; your Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, which may include a domain name; the date and time for each page you view; the name of and information about any advertisement that brought you to the Alexa website; searches you perform, links you click on; and computer and connection information such as browser type and version, operating system, and platform. We also transmit cookies to your computer so we can track the pages of our website that you view and the order in which you view them.
The Alexa Toolbar service will collect and store the following information:
- Your browsing history, any web pages you view will be recorded
- The data you enter in online forms and search fields (This could include private financial, bank or medical information)
- Version 5 or higher – The products you purchase online
- Version 6.5 or higher – Using the search function on the Alexa website, or toolbar can redirect you to a results page on Amazon.com, and that site will collect and store your data also.
For every web page you visit while using SearchStatus (excluding secure domains and those you have configured as private), certain information, including your ip address, the url of the web page you visit, and general information about your browser and computer’s operating system will be transmitted from your computer to Alexa. Some of the url’s you visit, which are transmitted to Alexa, will contain information that is personally identifiable.
The SearchStatus extension will collect and store the following information:
- Your browsing history, any web pages you view will be recorded, excluding secure domains, and those configured as private
- IP Address, URL of page visited, general browser and OS information will be transmitted to Alexa
have requested information clarifying their policy on collecting data from these online forms. I received an email reply before this even posted, kudos to Craig at Quirk eMarketing Services, for a speedy reply. From the email:
No, SearchStatus collects as little as possible, which comes down to your current URL and IP address that Alexa needs to provide the Alexa ranking (and take the traffic information the extension provides into account in their algorithm).
No data from forms is analysed [sic] or collected.
This is very straightforward, SearchStatus does not collect data from forms.
Alexa.com can be a valuable tool for collecting metrics on how your blog is doing. I use the site daily to measure if I am increasing my rank and reach. The problem is, if a visitor does not have the program loaded that reports back to Alexa, they visit will not be counted, so it is a tool that is skewed towards websites with a larger technical audience.
I think that the Alexa Toolbar
SearchStatus for Firefox also collects and forwards your browsing history to Alexa, but I did not see anything about capturing data from online forms, which was confirmed by the email. You have the ability to easily disable this extension so you can browse without your actions being recorded.
Of the two, I find the SearchStatus extension for Firefox to be much less invasive. I think the Alexa Toolbar captures too much information and there is no easy way to disable the service.
Post Updated from Reply from Craig at Quirk eMarketing Services and comment from Geoff from Alexa.