Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Pinterest Now Tracks Everybody by Default, but You Can Opt Out

Pinterest will now compile profiles of people who visit sites that contain Pinterest buttons, so their social bookmarking experience can be automatically personalized around interests that correspond to those sites.

PinterestblogThis will happen both for people who are currently logged in to the Pinterest website, and for people who have never even joined Pinterest, via anonymized tracking.

“So, if you’re planning a party and have gone to lots of party sites recently, we’ll try to suggest boards to make your event a hit,” Pinterest software engineer Ke Chen explained in a blog post.

“Pin It” buttons and other Pinterest widgets are used on just about every page of major sites, including Amazon, eBay, Nordstrom, REI and Bon Appetit.

Their original purpose was so that that shoppers and other users could easily save items they come across to their Pinterest boards. Since Pinterest sends lots of traffic back to the sites, the buttons are all over the place.

People who want to opt out of Pinterest tracking can enable “Do Not Track” on their browser, change their account settings, or tell Pinterest not to use that data when they sign up.

Pinterest announced the initiative today by emphasizing its support for Do Not Track, a privacy initiative that has had trouble getting off the ground because people can’t agree how to implement it, and tracking users is a key ingredient for personalizing services and targeting advertising. As an emerging Internet giant, Pinterest’s endorsement for the standard is important.

However, the more notable aspect of today’s news doesn’t seem to be Do Not Track — it’s that Pinterest is tracking people who don’t even use the service.

That’s because Pinterest wants to provide a good experience for new users the first time they visit, said company spokesperson Malorie Lucich.

“One of our hopes is that, when people join Pinterest, we’ll be able to suggest better content to them, so they have a good new-user experience (and see stuff that interests them),” she said. “As part of the sign-up process, they can tell us not to use that type of data. (There is a clear check-box.)”

Data collected about users who are logged out of Pinterest will be anonymized, she said.

Lucich explained, “We think the websites you visit are a good indicator of your interests (and Pinterest is all about your interests). So as people visit sites with the Pin It button (or other Pinterest widgets), we can use that information (if they’re interested) to recommend better boards to follow.”

She compared the Pinterest feature to one that Twitter launched in 2012, which suggests accounts for new users to follow.

The Twitter suggestions are said to be based on monitoring people who visit sites with Twitter widgets on them, to see what accounts they commonly follow. If the new user has also visited one of those sites in the past 10 days, some of those accounts will be suggested.

Both moves are a little creepy when you think about it — some site that you’ve never even joined is ready and waiting to personalize itself for you, whenever you show up.

That said, this is not uncommon. Tracking cookies are used all over the Web, and few people know or care about them.

Pinterest said it would be adding the features “in the next few weeks.”


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