A Tale of Facebook Tracking

December 17, 2020

A short exchange on Twitter with a bit of snark led to a friend discovering just how pervasive Facebook tracking is on the web.

Someone I follow on Twitter posted wondering why folks weren’t on Instagram.

I replied that I am trying to avoid Facebook as much as possible.

A friend, Jim Rea, jokingly replied with a flip Yoda quote “There is no try, only do”.

I checked out my friend’s business website and the Safari Privacy Report noted that it was blocking two different Facebook trackers.

So I replied:

“That's much easier said than done.

For example on many websites (including your own) I try to avoid Facebook, but I do end up encountering Facebook tracking scripts.”

Flabbergasted

My friend was completely flabbergasted as this took him completely by surprise. He had no idea there were Facebook tracking scripts on his site.

Jim is a longtime Mac developer. He released the first version of his company’s flagship product, Panorama, in 1988. His app has been around longer than BBEdit. He’s run a successful business as an indie Mac developer for over 30 years.

He contacted me privately because he wasn’t seeing the Facebook tracking that I was seeing. So we did a little investigating.

A Little Investigating

When I inspected the page in Safari using Inspect Element, the Facebook scripts were present. But if I looked at the HTML source that Safari had downloaded, the Facebook scripts were nowhere to be seen.

Some other script embedded in the page was adding the additional Facebook script elements to the page.

His website being important to his business, Jim knew exactly what analytics he was using on his site. This wasn’t a case where he had outsourced the website to someone else. And those analytics scripts were exactly what was in the downloaded HTML.

We figured out that Jim wasn’t seeing the Facebook scripts when he browsed his own site because he had a browser extension installed that prevented the additional scripts from being injected. As soon as he turned off the extension and refreshed—there they were!

Resolution

Jim tracked down and removed the script that was installing the Facebook scripts. You can visit the Provue site to see for yourself.

This episode really brought home for me the incredible pervasiveness of cross-site and cross-app tracking.

It also made me realize the importance of bringing information to light. If it were not for the new Privacy Report in Safari, I would not have dug into that site’s HTML just to make a snarky Twitter comment to a friend. That report makes what had been obscured for many years very obvious and discoverable.

And finally it also demonstrated to me just how insidious and hidden this tracking can be. In this case, even a diligent, technically knowledgable developer ended up unknowingly having Facebook tracking scripts on their site.

Google Analytics And Alternatives

If you visit the Provue site in Safari and look at the Privacy Report, you’ll notice there is one tracker still present, and being prevented from profiling you—Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is very popular and widely used. It can gather extremely detailed site analytics and it is free, except for very high traffic sites.

As an example of its pervasiveness, as of today, the Safari Privacy Report for the popular site Daring Fireball also lists Google Analytics as its only blocked tracker.

Choosing Analytics

I like having some web analytics. I essentially want to know how many visitors showed up and what pages they viewed. On the BuildSettingExtractor site, I like to know how many times the download link was clicked. Seeing referrers is nice too, as it’s often how I find out if a post or site has been linked to in an article or newsletter.

When I moved this site off of Wordpress, I no longer had built-in analytics. I signed up for Google Analytics because it was free. That lasted about two weeks.

It bothered me that Safari needed to block cross-site tracking on my site. Also, I found that Google Analytics is much more complex than I need or want. There also seems like there is a one-day delay in seeing your full analytics. The best thing about it for me was that it is free.

So, I started looking for an alternative. I found a website No More Google that lists privacy-friendly alternatives for various Google products. I looked through the options, comparing features, and found that Fathom was going to be the best choice for me.

Fathom For Me

Fathom provides the set of analytics I was looking for, plus it’s simple and privacy-minded. Fathom doesn’t use cookies, so no need for that annoying cookie notification. The service anonymizes users so no identifiable user information is ever tracked. Finally, Fathom allows you to set up unlimited sites. As someone with multiple low-traffic sites, this was a big plus. Finally, I have a static site, so a self-hosting solutions were not going to be an option.

Fathom is not free but I found the cost reasonable. Its focus is on being a sustainable business that makes its money through selling its service, not by collecting and selling information.

I’ve been using Fathom for about a month now. I’ve been happy with the features and how it works. A support request received an incredibly fast response, so my experience with their support has been good.

If you’re looking for privacy-centric analytics, consider all of the services listed at No More Google.

Of course, different folks have different needs for analytics. But if your needs are similar to mine, I’d recommend taking a look at Fathom. I’ve had a good experience so far.

If you decide to look at Fathom, you can use this affiliate link for $10 off your first invoice. (Ironically the buttons on that page set a cookie to ensure you get the $10 credit.)

To Track Or Not To Track

In the past month, I’ve been thinking about web analytics and tracking scripts for my own sites, but also managed to discover some on a site that surprised the site’s author.

If you have your own sites, you have an opportunity to choose how and if to collect analytics. But even then, it is important to be vigilant, since you could be inadvertently be getting more tracking than you had expected. •

Twelve Weeks Of Dance Party!

December 14, 2020

Tomorrow will mark twelve weeks that I have done a daily Dance Party! as described in my earlier post.

Three months in seemed like a good milestone to reflect a bit on this still-developing habit—especially now that the initial excitement over starting a new thing has passed—and see how this is working.

The books I have read on habits are Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I am currently in the midst of reading Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood.

Atomic Habits describes four phases of a habit:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

The core of this new habit was hooking into something already existing within me. If a song comes on that I find danceable, there’s a craving to move along with the music, and so dancing is the response. I usually enjoy myself while dancing, so the activity itself serves as some reward.

So, the craving, response, and even reward phases were already things I’ve had for many years.

Why do I have that craving? I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters.

The big change here was adding a regularly occurring cue. Dance music turns on very loudly in the house every afternoon. (For the curious, the setup is detailed in my Dance Party! post.)

Why has it taken me so many years to figure this out? I also don’t know, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

As the weeks have passed, the Apple Watch has helped to reinforce the habit. I have also begun to introduce a few variations to the basic theme.

Avoiding Feeling Bad

I’ve had an Apple Watch since the original, but have never really engaged with the fitness rings. But I’m finding that since starting Dance Party, the rings have served as additional motivation for doing a daily workout.

Although I do have that innate impulse of getting up to dance when some music starts playing, it is not an absolutely foolproof response. Over the last twelve weeks there have been a number of days when the music has started playing and I have just not felt like dancing.

At that point, two thoughts have motivated me. The first is the commitment I made to myself to dance to at least one song when the music comes on. The thought ‘Yeah, I can get up and dance a bit for 3 - 5 minutes’ helps me get started.

But the other thought is about that streak of closed rings in the Fitness app.

I know it will bother me to see that missed day when I look at the Fitness history. I know it will bother me again and again every single time I look at that history. And I know it will bother me more than getting up and dancing to 20 minutes of music will bother me right now.

So, for the last twelve weeks, the gamification aspect of the Fitness app has also been reinforcing the habit.

The cue is still the music, the response is still dancing.

But there is an additional reward in seeing that unbroken streak and additional craving to have the streak continue. And a complementary craving to avoid seeing the streak broken, because I know it will bother me not just today, but for a long time to come.

Variations on a Theme

The core of the Daily Dance Party is fairly simple, but over the first twelve weeks, it has started to take on additional variations. The variations are more complex than the original Cue > Craving > Response > Reward idea, but have been very useful in helping me do a daily workout.

Time

The first variation is time. Although the Dance Party cue is automatic, it is also entirely under my control.

If I’m in the midst of something, I can go into the Home app and set a later time for that day.

If I’m in the mood to dance earlier than scheduled, I can just say “Hey Siri, Dance Party!” and get things moving immediately.

Some days I forget what time I had the Dance Party set for and it is a surprise when the music starts.

Some days I am much more proactive setting the time to accommodate whatever else I have going on that day.

Planned Alternate Workout

For most of the past twelve weeks, I have been participating in a weekly Mindful Qigong class that meets via Zoom.

I treat those classes like any other meeting. They are on my calendar with reminders, including reminders eight hours in advance, so I remember early in the day I have that class coming up in the evening.

On those days, I do an abbreviated Dance Party, usually just one song.

During the class, I use a Tai Chi workout on the watch, which is the closest workout type.

I find the Qigong has been an interesting counterpart to the Daily Dance Party. The Qigong is led and structured movement, while the dancing is freeform and self-directed. Yet both include a variety of similar types of movements. It feels like each reinforces the other.

On-The-Fly Alternate Workout

There have been a few days when I’ve been deep in the midst of something—a project, a nap—when the music comes on and I’ve stopped the music instead of getting up to dance.

The music still serves as a cue, but in those cases it is probably my craving to keep the streak going that is stronger than my craving to dance to the music.

In those cases, my reaction is not to dance, but to make a plan to do an alternative workout. Sometimes that plan is just setting the Dance Party to go off again later in the day.

But sometimes the plan is to substitute an outdoor walk as an alternate workout for that day.

I tend to go for a walk at times with few people around, so usually after dark at 8 pm or so. I have a route that is about 1.75 miles through the winding streets of the neighborhood. I’m socially distanced, carefully avoiding any other pedestrians I might encounter and have a mask with me in case nearby contact is unavoidable.

Apple Fitness+

Apple Fitness+ launches today and I am looking forward to trying it. Even if I do an Apple Fitness+ workout, the cue will likely still be the Dance Party music starting. As I imagine it, I can dance through one song as a warmup, and then do a workout.

It will be interesting to see how I respond to structured workout classes, including dance workouts, as opposed to the very free-form Dance Party.

I’m hoping that the variations I have introduced over the past twelve weeks make it easy to introduce Apple Fitness+ workouts into the mix as additional variations.

A Meta Habit?

As I look back over the past twelve weeks of a Daily Dance Party, it has been interesting to think about my own behavior. Most days are very much a habit—the music comes on, I dance around the house for a while.

But some days there is still thought and decision-making going into the workout. Do I feel like dancing today or would I rather go for a walk? What time does should I set this to in order to avoid loud music going off during a Zoom call?

So, one big change I have noticed is spending more time thinking about, planning, and doing daily workouts.

Since a habit is something you do automatically without consciously thinking about it, I haven’t yet wrapped my head around the meta notion of having a habit of thinking about something regularly. But I do seem to be developing a habit of doing just that.

Will this be a lasting habit? Three months is certainly longer-lasting than zero months, but I still can’t guarantee my future behavior.

But the journey is the reward and I appreciate you reading my thoughts and experiences along the way. •

Introducing swiftversion.net

December 2, 2020

Do you ever mix up the different dot releases of Swift?

Do you ever forget which release is currently shipping or in development?

Do you ever need to know which Swift shipped with which Xcode?

For me, the answer to all of these questions is yes.

So I created swiftversion.net.

It’s a simple single page showing the current release, the development release, and a history of each version of Swift with a corresponding Xcode release.

It also gladly switches between dark and light mode to match your system setting.

I like how it turned out and hope you find it useful as well. •

Siri is my workout partner

November 16, 2020

I’ve used Siri sporadically since the intelligent assistant was introduced on the iPhone 4S back in 2011, but never as part of a regular workflow.

Then—as I described in an earlier post—I started a daily dance party workout at my house.

I’ve been using Siri to keep in the flow of the workout and, except for a few minor issues noted below, Siri has been a great workout partner.

I wanted to share the ways I am using Siri during my daily workout that are working well for me. With the arrival of the HomePod mini this week, you might want to start a dance party of your own.

Are You Talking To Me?

During my workout, I’m talking to Siri on two different devices—a HomePod and an Apple Watch.

One thing about using “Hey Siri” in an Apple-centric household like mine, all sorts of devices within earshot (microphoneshot?) start listening. So, I have been getting used to activating Siri in device-specific ways.

On Apple Watch, I’ve been using the “Raise to Speak” feature. This allows me to raise my write and address Siri on the watch and only on the watch.
(Settings > Siri > Raise to Speak.)

On HomePod, I’m using “Hey Siri” to activate.

Getting Rolling

Siri is a great way to start and stop workouts on Apple Watch.

When the music starts playing, I want to start my workout without a lot of fiddling around with the watch interface.

So, when the dance party starts, I can just get up and start dancing, raise my wrist and say “Start dance workout”.

The workout starts, and I of course, exclaim “Dance Party!” like an overenthusiastic kid in a 1970s board game commercial. Siri’s not involved with that outburst at all. That’s just for me.

Managing Playlists While In The Flow

That’s about all I use Siri for on the watch until the end of the workout. More on that later.

During the workout, I use Siri on the HomePod a lot during the dance party.

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a particular song. “Hey Siri, next song” comes in handy.

Other times you’re really in the mood to dance to a particular song so “Hey Siri, play again” is fairly common.

And then sometimes, as I go, I think of a song that isn’t on my Dance playlist. A recent example is Love Shack by the B-52’s.

“Hey Siri, play Love Shack” gets the song going.

“Hey Siri, add to Dancing playlist” makes sure the song gets added.

One little bump in the workflow is that HomePod is nowplaying a single song, not the playlist. So when the song is over I do need to call out “Hey Siri, play Dancing playlist”.

One thing Siri doesn’t seem to be able to do is skip to a song in a playlist by name. I’ve filed that feature request with Apple (FB8898901). So, for now, if there’s a particular song in the playlist I want to hear, I end up saying “Hey Siri, next song” repeatedly.

Just these few Siri commands make it easy to add new songs as I think of them and manage what’s playing without interrupting the flow of my workout.

Cool Down

When I’m done with the dance workout, after about 20 - 25 minutes, I tell the HomePod “Hey Siri, Stop Music” and raise my wrist to “Stop workout”.

Next up is a cool down workout where I do some stretching.

Once I’m situated on the floor, I raise my wrist again and “Start cool down workout”. On occasion Siri doesn’t understand what a ‘cool down workout’ is and I need to repeat myself.

I do each stretch for a certain amount of time, so I raise my wrist and “Set timer for four minutes” with the desired time for each stretch. I could also ask the HomePod to start a timer, but I like glancing at my watch to see how much time is left, as opposed to asking HomePod to tell me.

Once I’m done, I just raise my wrist again and “End workout”.

Thanks Partner

Overall, I’ve been very happy with how I’m able to manage my workouts, play music, and manage my playlists without having to stop exercising to focus on interacting with a graphical interface.

Nothing is perfect of course. In addition to minor issues I’ve already mentioned, sometimes I need to cover the watch face and lower my wrist and raise it again to get Siri to listen. But this is still less fiddly and error prone than trying to get a workout started on screen while also trying to get the dance party started.

Minor issues aside, the handful of Siri commands I’ve detailed above has really helped get me started exercising daily, with the technology keeping me in the flow instead of serving as a distraction. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll continue to refine my routine.

If you have have favorite Siri tips or suggestions you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Free to mention them to me on Twitter or Micro.blog. •

Dance Party!

November 9, 2020

For years, I have tried without success to establish a habit of consistent exercise. Over the course of my adult life, I have hired personal trainers, purchased home fitness equipment, joined various gyms.

Some of these attempts at establishing a lasting habit managed to last weeks, some months, one stretch went over a year.

But, in the end, none of these workout routines ever felt like a natural part of me. They always required a significant amount of willpower and I never really found much enjoyment in them. Those conditions are not favorable to forming a lifelong habit.

A New Hope

After some reflection I realized that there is a form of exercise that I enjoy.

I like to dance.

This is not to say I am graceful, talented, or skilled at dancing. But I definitely enjoy it. When a song starts playing, it is difficult for me not to move to the music in some way.

So, how to put that realization to some practical use?

After all, I’ve enjoyed dancing for as long as I can remember, but it has never become a habit, and I hadn’t really thought about it as exercise.

Over the summer a few things came together to spark an idea that seemed promising:

First, the addition of the dance workout in watchOS 7 validated that yes, dancing is an exercise. Maybe even more important for me is that dance workouts can now be measured and tracked in the Apple fitness ecosystem.

Second, on our personal productivity podcast The Weekly Review, Jean MacDonald and I have talked about forming habits on a number of episodes. The three books we have focused on are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg; Atomic Habits by James Clear; and Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood.

One key principle in establishing a habit is the need for a cue to trigger the behavior.

And then it hit me:

Dance workout icon from Workout app on Apple Watch
Dance Party!

If sometime during the day loud dance music suddenly started playing in my house, it would be difficult for me to not get up and dance.

This led me to the Home app where I found out I could set up a Scene to play a particular playlist on my HomePod. And I could set up an Automation to play that Scene every day at a particular time.

In Apple Music, I already had a Dance playlist that I hadn’t really touched in years from way back in the early iTunes days.

I set it all up and the daily Dance Party! was born.

Progress

One suggestion in Atomic Habits is that when establishing a habit, the consistency of repeating the habit is more important than the length of time or progress made during any one iteration of the habit.

James Dempsey
The start of something

So, I made the commitment to myself that once the dance party started, I would definitely dance all the way through the first song. And if I wasn’t feeling it after that, I could consider the dance party done for the day.

The first dance party was on Sept 23, 2020 and I’ve now successfully had a dance party every day for the last six weeks!

A typical dance part lasts 20 - 25 minutes.

Another part of the daily ritual is, when that first song starts playing, as I get up to dance I yell out “Dance Party!” to nobody in particular. It’s a bit of cheesy forced enthusiasm that helps kick things off.

Finally, I use a technique called habit stacking to follow my dance workout with a cool down workout where I do about 10 minutes of stretching. Between the two workouts I close my Exercise ring for the day.

You’d think that having a scheduled time set up that I would never be surprised by a dance party. But you’d think wrong. I’ve been woken from weekend naps and startled from coding by the daily dance party.

The Future

Will this last? I can’t say.

But, I know this feels different than other things I’ve attempted. I’m excited about it and I’m largely having fun doing it. And on days when I’m really not in the mood, I do keep that commitment to dance through a single song. So far, even on those day, my brain has successfully slipped into “well, might as well finish” mode and I’ve done a full dance party.

I don’t tweet about it every day, but if you do see me tweet “Dance Party!” now you’ll know exactly what I’m up to. •

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