Friday, June 8, 2007

WASP detection pattern

Thanks to some very valuable feedback, I will make some major changes to the WASP detection model.


WASP is far from perfect. One of the most common comment I got was that it doesn't detect frames.

The other thing is each tool needs to be added to the configuration file, knowing there is actually anywhere between 150 and over 200 solutions on the market, this becomes a huge maintenance issue. Whenever an existing solution is updated or a new one comes to market, the configuration file needs to be reviewed.

The actual detection model relies on the presence of a specific JavaScript object (a variable or a function) and/or an URL pattern. This detection process is done after the page is fully loaded.

Proxy approach

I have found some patterns that are common to all tools, so I will change the way WASP does it's detection to work more like a proxy and detect the HTTP Get and the HTTP Response patterns. This new method should increase the confidence level and catch any tool that uses tags. Of course I will add more features for tools that are more commons (like Omniture, HBX, Google Analytics, etc.) but the nice thing is WASP will be able to detect even the most obscure tracking systems.

Stick to the objective

When I decided to build WASP, my goals were twofold:
  1. Build an end user tool that would help regular surfers understand how their behavior is being tracked. This free version of the extension has two sub goals:
    1. Reassure users that there is nothing evil with most web analytics solutions
    2. Help identify sites that are abusing the user privacy or tools that are misconfigured
  2. Build a more advanced tool that will help WA specialists do quality assurance and ease their implementation. This version (actually based on voluntary donation - but that could change), would include advanced features that not even the web analytics provider themselves are actually offering (I'm keeping that part voluntarily obscure...).
It's very tempting to widen the role of such a tool, and some of the feedback I got was very interesting. But while reading the book "Founders at work" (stay tuned for my review of this book by Jessica Livingston) I noticed a lot of successful projects started from an initial idea and evolved to something even better. Once what appeared to be the "yellow brick road" was identified, all energy went to it.