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‘Like’ and ‘tweet’ buttons – what news sites need to know about dropped cookies

What is not to like about the buttons that drive traffic to your site from Facebook and Twitter? Quite a lot if you consider a study commissioned by the Wall Street Journal published in May.

‘Like’ and ‘tweet’ widgets, which appear on one third of the world’s 1,000 most-visited websites, enable Facebook and Twitter to track and follow the sites a user visits by dropping cookies – small text files placed on a user’s computer.

New EU cookie law, which came into force in the UK on 26 May, requires websites to confirm they accept cookies before they can be dropped. So what is the legal position of websites that use ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons, how should they act responsibly and can anything be done to stop this happening?

How Facebook and Twitter ‘follow’ your readers

The WSJ article explains how the ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons on your site track readers:

For this to work, a person only needs to have logged into Facebook or Twitter once in the past month. The sites will continue to collect browsing data, even if the person closes their browser or turns off their computers, until that person explicitly logs out of their Facebook or Twitter accounts, the study found.

Kennish’s study examined more than 200,000 web pages on the top 1,000 sites. He found Facebook obtained browsing data from 331 sites, and Google obtained data from 250 sites, some of it from its Buzz widget. Twitter got browsing information from about 200 sites.

This all may sound a little ‘big brother’ to some Facebook and Twitter users but cookies are dropped by almost every website you visit and collect all sorts of data. One of the major uses of cookies by news sites is to gather audience data and display targeted advertising. They can also be dropped by any third-party with links on your site, such as Facebook and Twitter buttons.

So what can news sites do to prevent their readers being tracked by Facebook and Twitter?

Nothing, according to Julian Evans, an information security expert with his own blog on online security, who said all ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons, even if they are made by third-parties, drop cookies.

The legal position of ‘tweet’, ‘like’ and cookies

However, websites are not liable for cookies dropped by third-parties, such as Facebook’s ‘like’, Twitter’s ‘tweet’ or other buttons and links on your site, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent public body which polices the new EU cookie law and can fine websites up to £500,000 for non-compliance.

Katherine Vander from the ICO told Journalism.co.uk that websites must, during the next few months, concentrate on getting their houses in order to make sure they comply with the new EU directive that came into force in the UK on 26 May which states users have to confirm they accept cookies before a website can drop them. Before that date internet users merely had to opt out of receiving cookies if they did not want their data collected.

What should sites do to act responsibly?

Although there is no legal requirement for news sites to get readers to opt in to agree to allowing Facebook and Twitter to drop cookies and track their reading habits, the ICO is encouraging news sites to act responsibly and inform readers what is going on.

“If you’re encouraging people to come to your site to use those facilities and you’re making a deliberate link there – which obviously [sites which have 'tweet' and 'like' buttons] are – you may well feel some sense of responsibility in terms of, at the very least, providing people with information about what might result in that happening,” Vander told Journalism.co.uk. She also asked news sites to keep up-to-date with Facebook and Twitter’s privacy policies.

She suggests sites which want to be really responsible should “put a note next to the link” to tell readers this button drops cookies.

That may not sound like an attractive solution to many as it may scare or confuse readers, many of whom think a cookie is just something to dunk in a cup of tea.

“Consumers don’t understand what cookies are. People don’t want to know what [a cookie] does, they just want to know it’s safe and their privacy is safe online,” security expert Julian Evans said.

He also pointed out that news sites should remember users willingly share their own information through login authentication sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What users can do to prevent cookies

  1. Log out of social networks when you are not using them. Use a separate browser to log on to Facebook and Twitter;
  2. Amend your browser’s privacy settings (preferences > privacy);
  3. Clear out your cookies;
  4. Clear out your ‘evercookies’, a persistent JavaScript API, which you can learn how to get rid of here;
  5. Use a service like Disconnect;
  6. Security expert Julian Evans, who runs ID-Theft Protect, recommends Firefox users install No Script, a script blocker that shows where your data is going.
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Google turns up to social sharing party with +1

Google +1 has launched for news sites, allowing users logged in to their Google account to recommend articles and sites to contacts, similar to the way Facebook’s ‘like’ button permits Facebook contacts to see a person’s favourite stories.

When someone with a Google account clicks the +1 button the page will then be privileged in relevant searches performed by that person’s Google contacts.

Google-owned sites, including Android Market, Blogger, Product Search and YouTube have added the button along with news sites including the Washington Post, Google announced on its blog.

We asked via Twitter which UK sites have already added the button and the Lincolnite, Made for Mums, Cooking with Mrs K and Kelvin Taylor’s blog all responded to tell us they had installed the button.

ReadWriteWeb, in this post, predicts +1 will be good for news sites but feels it may not work.

Is this compelling for website owners? Yes, probably. For web users who would click the button? That’s much less clear. For search users? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

You can add the +1 button by copying a line of code. This post explains how.

 

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Next step news delivery – Sky News’ TV widget

January 8th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting

Sky News feeds will be built in to viewers’ TV sets thanks to a new development from Yahoo and Samsung.

The Sky News TV widget, developed by the Yahoo Widget Engine, will be available on internet-connected TVs from Samsung. Selecting the TV widget will add a menu of the latest headlines and news stories from Sky to the programme being watched:

The widget will be available in just the UK from later this month. It will feature top stories, UK news, politics, sport, business, world news and showbiz news as channels and will be free to use with no requirement to subscribe to a Sky TV package.

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Sun’s Page 3 widget breaks download records

July 22nd, 2008 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Newspapers

A Page 3 girl widget for RSS feeds, launched by The Sun on Friday, has beaten previous download figures for Sun apps after only three days, the newspaper has said.

The Keeley Hazell application (see below) was built using Adobe Air – a new piece of technology, which allows one widget to be built that will be compatible with both PC and MAC systems.

Further editorial developments are planned for the site over the next few weeks to build on changes to the site navigation and page design introduced last week.

The homepage is longer and features a panel on the right-hand side showcasing breaking news, ‘most read’ and ‘most discussed’ articles.

In addition, users are now taken directly to the article after clicking on a homepage headline, rather than visiting the section homepage.

The changes to the homepage have received criticism from media commentator Roy Greenslade, who asked if the revamp was a reaction to the Daily Mail’s recent relaunch.

However, Danny Rogers, The Sun’s editorial manager (online), said the new features were the result of long-running development.

“It has nothing to do with the Daily Mail. This has been going on for the last six months,” he told Journalism.co.uk, adding that the changes were aimed at displaying content in a more accessible and user-friendly way.

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Spleak launches new online communities

July 22nd, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Social media and blogging

California-based startup Spleak Media Network has launched three new online applications for fashion, TV and gaming communities.

StyleSpleak, TVSpleak and GameSpleak will work in the same way as the company’s existing sites by providing short-form news and gossip updates alongside comments and contributions from users, and content from partnered media organisations such as Hearst Digital.

The Spleak applications are available on instant messaging platforms, social networking sites and mobile phones.

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News prediction game Hubdub launches widgets

May 27th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

Hubdub – the gaming website where you bet Hubdub dollars on the outcome of news events – has developed two widgets, according to the site’s official blog.

The market widget features a graph, which shows how different outcomes have been backed by users over time and what their changing probability is.

The prediction widget on the other hand lets users record their own predictions – and how much they bet – ‘for posterity’. To get this widget, users will be given a link as they post a question.

Earlier this year Journalism.co.uk interviewed Hubdub founder Nigel Eccles, who spoke of a revenue strategy that will involve partnerships with media organisations and publishers. Offering widgets is a great way to start this sharing of content and – with added trackbacks – of driving traffic back to the Hubdub site.

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Spleak apps deliver politics and sport news to social networks

May 8th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Uncategorized

Spleak Media Network has launched two new applications for delivering short-form sport and political news to social networks.

SportSpleak and VoteSpleak will serve up news headlines and gossip to users on social networks and instant messaging services, who can then comment on the updates to their friends.

Both will function along the same lines as CelebSpleak, which offers ‘tattles’ or short snippets of celebrity news to users including content from Hearst’s digital titles.

Content deals for SportSpleak and VoteSpleak, which have been launched in time for the forthcoming Olympics and US presidential election, will be announced shortly, the company said in a press release.

Spleak’s applications, which currently have over 100,000 active daily users, are available on AOL’s AIM, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Facebook, MySpace and through SMS alerts.

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Hearst in content deal with social network firm

April 15th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Magazines

Hearst Magazines Digital Media division has entered into an agreement with instant messaging and social network firm Spleak, Media Week reports.

The deal will see content from titles including CosmoGirl and Teen distributed through the recently launched CelebSpleak application, which is now available on MySpace, Facebook, and AOL and MSN’s instant messaging services.

The app delivers ‘tattles’ – nuggets of celebrity news – and allows users to respond.

“There’s great value in both UGC [user-generated content] and professional, editorial content. Most of the time the two end up in conflict with one another, but Spleak has found the right way to combine the best of both worlds.” Morrie Eisenberg, CEO of Spleak Media Network, told Media Week.

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Washington Post Facebook app attracts 350,000 downloads

March 26th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia, Online Journalism

Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, discusses widgets, podcasts, vodcasts and live streaming in the interview with Beet.tv below.

Brady says the Post’s political application on Facebook, which has been downloaded around 350,000 times, was a simple and relatively inexpensive way of promoting the WaPo brand.

However, he says that when experimenting with any new distribution methods – whether widgets, audio or video – it’s crucial to get the editorial content right first, regardless of what technology is in place.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpWWrFA7Nfw]

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