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How web apps can watch your every move

To serve your customers, you should understand them. And to understand them, you need data. To that end, developers strive to collect a mountain of data and then mine it to extract meaning and derive hypotheses about their customers.

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Hmm…

How easy is it for a developer to setup one of these?

Very. For example, with only a few lines of copy/paste Javascript, Fullstory and inspectlet will record every activity your user takes and allow you to play it back. The technology, albeit straightforward, is quite robust. It works by capturing the what the browser is rendering (DOM) and mouse events over time and uploads snapshots up to their servers. The web view is then reconstructed and made available for playback (just like a DVR). Note: this clever trick is not possible on native Android and iOS apps.

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  1. Virtual everything is recorded by default.
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Mouse movements, what I clicked, what I typed, and other data automatically scooped up, such as my (rough) location.

What should developers do?

To reiterate, I believe these types of tools are extremely useful in the right hands. As developers, I believe that customers should be made aware that they are being recorded if they’re logged in or providing private data. It’s one thing to record anonymous user sessions on your marketing pages to detect inefficiencies and optimize click-through rates, but an entirely other to track everything going on in your service.

What should the rest of us do?

As a customer, unfortunately, there’s not much we can do short of inspecting the loaded Javascript (too hard on desktop and forget about doing it on your mobile browser).

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Snoopie smells something.

Engineer by trade, artist at heart

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