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I would like to track visits to my Stack Overflow profile.

Is it acceptable to use a transparent GIF image (or other means) to get a request to my host and record visitors' IP address, time, user agent, etc.?

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How would that work, exactly?

Sure, you can upload an image to your profile, but Stack Exchange makes a copy of it and puts it on imgur, so it doesn't make a request to your server (although embedding <img> tags does work).

In any case, even if you could, it would probably violate Section 3(e) of the Terms of Service, which prohibits uploading anything that surreptitiously collects information.

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  • 11
    He's saying he'd put it in his bio I think. Aug 7 '13 at 0:19
  • 4
    You know, like this. Only more sinister and term-violatey.
    – Ry-
    Aug 7 '13 at 0:23
  • 3
    You can still link directly to external images, can't you?
    – Pekka
    Aug 7 '13 at 12:58
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    Also re 3(e) - meh. I don't see that clause prohibiting web bugs. Any normally configured web server will record access information for external images. What's the difference? If I were @Majid, I'd just do it.
    – Pekka
    Aug 7 '13 at 13:01
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    @Robert no, I mean we can embed external images. That's how minitech's browser game thingy above works, doesn't it?
    – Pekka
    Aug 7 '13 at 15:54
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    Ultimately, I don't think there is a huge difference between using some random image, and a transparent one. The data is collected in both cases, and there is nothing the user can do about it. A transparent image will make you look sleazy though.
    – Pekka
    Aug 7 '13 at 22:18
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    @Robert does the latter apply, though? When you see an image in a user profile, do you think "oh, that must be there to collect my data"? My point is, if we don't want sleazy people collecting data, we need to prohibit images from external sources. I don't see the point in telling the one decent guy who actually asks (and likely has no evil motives) that he can't do it, while anyone can just do it with no means for us to find out.
    – Pekka
    Aug 7 '13 at 22:24
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    @Pekka웃: Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that we routinely anonymize image uploads, but still allow bare links to images. It must be to minimize hotlinking. Still, I don't think its too much to ask to make it clear in your profile that you might be collecting usage data from a clearly visible GIF, rather than hiding behind a transparent one. It's just the right thing to do. If you're trying to hide what you're doing, you probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place.
    – user102937
    Aug 7 '13 at 22:27
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    With a transparent pixel, that’s obviously information collection and not allowed. With some other image, it could be information collection and not allowed, but there’s really no way to be sure except disallowing external images (which is really no fun at all), so…
    – Ry-
    Aug 7 '13 at 23:55
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    @RobertHarvey, going for a transparent GIF, the intention was not to hide anything, it just would free you from worrying about aesthetics of the outcome with a visible one. Aug 8 '13 at 1:26
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    @RobertHarvey I had a similar question that was marked as a duplicate of this one, so just to clarify, users are not allowed to post tracking images like this in their questions and answers either, right? May 14 '14 at 13:43
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    @JohnBensin: I find the terms of service link to be conclusive enough. May 14 '14 at 13:54
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    @JohnBensin: I've commented on the post, and removed all beacons I could find. May 14 '14 at 14:01
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    @MartijnPieters Thanks; I presume the tracking beacons will be removed from the profile pages as well? May 14 '14 at 15:09
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    @JohnBensin: I'll flag a post per site where this user is using the technique. May 14 '14 at 15:10

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