Earlier this week, Mozilla Firefox developer Darin Fisher announced that test builds of the browser include support for click pings, an experimental new HTML feature that makes it easier for web sites to track clicks on outgoing links:

I'm sure this may raise some eye-brows among privacy conscious folks, but please know that this change is being considered with the utmost regard for user privacy. The point of this feature is to enable link tracking mechanisms commonly employed on the web to get out of the critical path and thereby reduce the time required for users to see the page they clicked on.

Click pings work in web page markup by specifying one or more URLs in a link's ping attribute (an unofficial addition to HTML):

<a href="http://cnn.com" ping="http://drudge.com/receive-click-ping.php? url=http://cnn.com">Visit CNN</a>

When you click such a link using a development build of Firefox, the browser requests the ping link in the background as it loads the linked page. These pings can produce click usage reports.

I've created a new PHP class library, Poplink, that can receive click pings and report on the most popular links. It's released under the GPL and requires MySQL.

Mozilla's being hammered by privacy advocates since Fisher broke the news -- Chris Messina of Flock writes, "I feel like a piece of me is dying as a result of this."

Don't believe the gripe: Click pings are an improvement on the present situation. Any web publisher already can track clicks using HTTP redirects, and many do -- all ad brokers use the technique to track clickthroughs. This is a clumsy process that puts a click-counting script between the originating page and the destination, causing links to point to local scripts rather than their real destinations.

If click pings are adopted by browser developers, web users desiring more privacy could turn off these pings like they turn off pop-ups and referrer tracking, gaining a measure of control that's not available to them today. This also has the side effect of improving Google, which gets more real links and less redirect scripts fed to its almighty algorithm.

-- Rogers Cadenhead


Sweet, swift job Rogers!


Great job, really great. Since I read the notice this week I was wondering how to implement the ping attribute. Thanks.


Most users will not enable click-pings which means that publishers will continue using scripts. I don't see how this is going to help anyone.


Very interesting article. Very clear, thanks !


never saw ping attribute before :S... but this is very intresing post and i'll suscribe on your rss feed. very useful blog.


I really like the idea because usertracking made using Http redirects can't be blocked that easy. Usertraking made using this ping attribute can be easily blocked by a browserplugin or maybe even by changing a browser setting.


like the article said, i don't see any privacy problem. But i don't see it as an improvement either.

I can click on a result, and ping it as its freaking barbra streisand fan site, or.. my lame site to get some credits. So, what's the use?

To sum up.. (in a nerdy way), even tough ALL browsers follow this feature, this would be a CLIENT-SIDE thing which means its not reliable for guys who put the redirection there. So actually any software that needs tracking will use the redirection with lots of cookies/supercookies etc PLUS this ping feature just to reduce fraud clicks a little bit more. So people will end up having a redirection and an open socket for ping overhead while browsing/clicking the results.


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