Advertisements on your favorite websites are getting oddly specific. One day you’re asking Google, “Am I going bald?” and next thing you know hair-loss drugs are in your newsfeed. This is par for the internet's course: Our behaviors are tracked, and the relationship with that data is largely one-sided. Now there’s a new website that wants to show you how the internet silently monitors your every move to make it easier to feed you tailored advertisements.
Clickclickclick launched this week as part art project, part browser-based game. The website opens with a white screen and a single green button in the middle of the page. As you engage with the site, every cursor move, click, and scroll is reported back to the user in real-time. Meanwhile, a narrator provides sardonic commentary like, “Subject possibly neglects social obligations. A loner?”
The goal of Clickclickclick, which was jointly developed by VPRO, a Dutch media company, and Studio Moniker, an interactive design company, is to unlock achievements by discovering all the online behaviors that the site can track and record. “Adventurous click and scrolling behavior will be rewarded,” reads a press release for the website.
The game starts out with some innocent revelations — “Subject has opened website in Chrome” and “Subject has clicked on the button” — but as you unlock more achievements, the documented behavior gets more specific.
I left the website open in a tab as I wrote this article and it said, “Subject has not moved for one minute. Subject absent?” When I closed the tab and returned a few minutes later it said, “Subject has visited three websites before coming here.” After I granted it permission to access my webcam, it unexpectedly snapped my photo.
Clickclickclick takes a non-traditional approach to raising awareness on how much of our personal data is tracked online. Instead of telling you how exposed you are, it shows you. The game forces you to slow down and engage with each piece of data that can be recorded. You might skim over a news article titled “All the Ways Websites Can Monitor You,” but something different happens when you have to uncover them one at a time: You remember them.
“All these interactions have value for marketers, and as long we are unaware of that, we give it away for free,” Roel Wouters of Studio Moniker, who helped design Clickclickclick, said. He explained that the underlying technology powering Clickclickclick isn’t sophisticated. All the different behaviors recorded and played back are captured in HTML5, which is part of the toolbox of any modern web developer.
“All these interactions have value for marketers, and as long we are unaware of that, we give it away for free.”
The behaviors recorded on Clickclickclick are the same ones that websites look at to maximize the amount of time people spend on their page. When some sites see that you’re likely to leave after clicking on a certain image, they’ll change that photo’s location or remove it altogether. And because cursor movement can be tracked, websites can strategically place advertisements to generate the most clicks.
Clickclickclick is meant to be playful, but the way it slowly pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of online behavior monitoring makes for a salient and disconcerting experience. If you don’t have time to find all the behaviors that are tracked, a user on Reddit copied all 144 here. Happy tracking.