Invisible Stat Counters Are Watching You: 4 Things You Need to Know

If you don't have your own Web site, (or quite possibly even if you do), you probably don't know that most of them have invisible statistical counters programmed into the code. In a nutshell, this means that every time you visit a page on the Web, someone knows it. What follows is a list of just some of the data these counters record:

1. The name of your server or Internet provider:

This is potentially damning, depending on the size of the server and the way the company is listed online. For example, my personal Web site's stat counter can show me when someone from the company I work for is poking around my site. My company, which I'll call The Charity Group (for these purposes), has its own server, which is clearly labeled "The Charity Group" online. So when someone working for The Charity Group hits my site, it registers as The Charity Group. Now, there are over 200 people working for The Charity Group, so I don't know exactly WHO is looking, because they're all lumped together.

But it has happened that someone working in a small office of, say, two or three people, (a company with its own server) has hit my site, someone I know, and in that case, it's pretty easy to determine who's on there. So if that's your situation, be careful what sites you hit.

Here's an example of someone who hit my site, who works for The Elizabeth Board of Education in Elizabeth, NJ. I don't know anyone who works there, but if I did"¦

Those of you browsing through AOL or Comcast or Verizon, etc., are pretty safe. Here's the kind of info I'm getting on you:


Basically just the city and state you're in"¦ nothing really incriminating there.

2. How you arrive at a site:

The stat counters show what site or referrer you came from. For instance, if The Los Angeles Times links from one of my pieces on their site to my Web site, and you click through, my stat counter points that out. It also shows me who is coming in through Google searches AND--this is the fun part--what you're searching when you land on my site. Usually, it's my name, but every day there are some whacky searchers looking for the most unusual things. I used to have a photo on my site of the giant breast in Woody Allen's film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but had to remove it because I was being bombarded by people looking for "breasts" and "boobs."

In this screen grab, you can see how this person came to my site through Google by searching the title of my novel.


3. The exact date and amount of time you spend on a site

Stat counters clock the amount of time you spend on each page of a Web site. By simple subtraction, one can, for instance, determine how long you spend reading different pages of a site. In this screen grab, you can see someone who found me by searching my name on Google, and you can see them clicking around through various pages on my site, and the date/time of each click.


4. Your browser:

Though there are other things the stat counters track, I'll end here with a fun one:

Stat counters are able to see what browser you're using to access a site. By far, the most popular, of course, is Internet Explorer. But it's interesting to see more and more Mac Safari users (as seen in this screen grab), especially in Europe. (BTW: anyone know what Auna is?)

While much of the info is meaningless, I once had an Internet stalker and the stat counter really came in handy in determining who the person was. I now open the comments for those who want to explain other bits of useful info stat counters capture.

Which Terrestrial Planet?
You Can Sip Coffee and Play Games While This Helmet Scans Your Brain

Brain scanning is a delicate operation, one that typically involves staying very still. Researchers use imaging techniques like magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging to get an idea of how the brain functions and what neurons are being activated, but it's not an easy task. Current scanners are huge, requiring patients to sit unmoving inside them, lest their head movements mess up the data. There may soon be a better way—one that would allow patients to act normally while still getting reliable data.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK report in Nature that they've developed a prototype brain scanner that can be worn like a helmet, one that can generate reliable data even if the subject moves.

It uses lightweight quantum magnetic-field sensors held against the scalp by a 3D-printed helmet that's custom-made for the patient. For the study, one of the researchers volunteered to be the patient and was fitted with a white plastic helmet that looks kind of like a cross between a Roman Centurion helmet and a Jason Voorhees Halloween mask. She was positioned between two large panels equipped with electromagnetic coils that cancel out the Earth's magnetic field so that it doesn't interfere with the magnetic data picked up from the brain. As long as the patient stayed between the panels, she was free to move—nod her head, stretch, drink coffee, and bounce a ball with a paddle—all while the scanner picked up data about on par with what a traditional scanner (seen below) might gather.

A man sits inside an MEG scanner.

The more flexible scanning system is exciting for a number of reasons, including that it would allow squirmy children to have their brains scanned easily. Since patients can move around, it could measure brain function in more natural situations, while they're moving or socializing, and allow patients with neurodegenerative or developmental disorders to get MEG scans.

The current helmet is just a prototype, and the researchers want to eventually build a more generic design that doesn't require custom fitting.


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