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Alden Bates' Weblog

Feigning normality since 1973

The Scourge of Web Toolbars

Filed in: Internet.

So, I've noticed a new web design element spreading insidiously across the web. Suddenly you can add web toolbars, which float at the bottom of the browser window, to your website, so every user who visits your site gets an extra toolbar full of various tools which may or may not be useful depending on your usual internet hangouts.

Wibiya, for instance, has one which will link to your Twitter, Facebook, and/or YouTube account, and allow visitors to Tweet or "like" your site (you can see a demo of a Wibiya bar on Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic). The Meebo Bar similarly allows you to link to Facebook, Twitter, et al. I first started noticing the things when Wikia threw one on their new skin.

Is this a new trend? I note that, unlike toolbars which are actually built into your browser, you can't turn them off. I also wonder if there are privacy concerns here — if a company can get its toolbar on enough sites, they can start building up a pretty comprehensive picture of people's browsing habits. Of course, this isn't new, and web bugs have been around for years, but these web toolbars seem to add an extra carrot to entice webmasters to place them on their web site. Hrm.

Posted October 9, 2010 10:13 AM


You can't turn them off, no, but you can use ad-blocking plugins or browser features to disable them.

I use Opera, and I used added the string *.meebo.* to my Blocked Content list. Adding *.wibiya.* did the same for the Wibiya toolbar.

I agree that these web toolbars are be a serious privacy concern. For the website owner, they look like an easy way of giving the user useful features, and since these features are hosted and served from somewhere else, it's bandwidth friendly for them. But, at the same time, the webmaster has making a decision on behalf of his users they should share their private browsing data with a third-party. And I'm not sure that webmasters really want to share information on their web traffic if they don't absolutely have to.

Posted by: Allyn Gibson | October 24, 2010 9:38 AM

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