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>
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.
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.