We are craigslist users like you. Most of us have hung out in the Help Desk, Flag Help and Feedback forums a bit and have watched the people and issues come and go. A lot of people show up pretty upset about their ad getting flagged off. Some are bewildered, others angry, a few in definite need of meds. But there is a lot of frustration with the flagging system: understanding how it works, trying to find information in the craigslist Help, just trying to keep an ad up. So we thought we would put together this FAQ and see if might help some people. We don't work for craigslist. We aren't affiliated with craigslist. We didn't ask for Craig & Co. to approve this. It's just our take on things. Hopefully it may help you. But don't quote us, we may be wrong.
Are we tracking you? You betcha!. We know all about your diet and that Hersheys' bar you snuck last week. All those dishes in the sink, the craigslist ad you answered--then flaked out on, the pens you stole from work---yes, all your crimes are right there in the logs.
Really people, relax. We use a standard web statistics package and it collects the same stuff every other webs site on the net collects, that is, whatever your browser will tell it. The one we use is by Statcounter and it is the free version (not like we have any money) so we don't get the bells and whistles. You can check out the Statcounter site to see how it works.
The main things we are interested in are site traffic, the number of people returning to the site, the pages that are popular and what links people click to find the site. This stuff tells us where we should develop the site, what information people are most interested in and indeed, whether we should bother with the thing at all. We also get some insights into how people are navigating craigslist which in turn tells up more about our audience.
Some people express concern that we know the IP of users visiting the site. Every web site you visit knows your IP. The only way around this is to use some sort of anonymous browsing scheme. However your IP only says two things about you; roughly where you are in the world and who you are using for an ISP. We find that where our users are located to be slightly interesting. The vast majority of them are in the USA and Canada. This tells us that translating to other languages is not worthwhile. We also know that trying to discover just what is going on with flagging on foreign sites is not too useful. A commercial web site might find others uses for the information...perhaps to tune shipping and marketing policies to serve users in a particular region or country. But we don't have anything to sell and we don't run ads--this site is paid for by one individual out of their own pocket. So all the information that might be used for marketing is of no use. Malicious web sites of course can look for users using old, exploitable browsers and then, knowing the IP of the user of that browser, can try to launch an attack. We are not a malicious site (well...maybe some pretty bad jokes...) but you would be wise to keep your browser up to date and use at least a minimal firewall (and/or proper system configuration) if you go in harms way (porn and warez sites for example). The Gibson Research site is one of the old standards for basic web security. A lot to learn there and they also have some online security tests you can run.
Statcounter uses two sorts of cookies. One is the standard cookie for all visitors. The other is a "blocking" cookie just for the web master. The blocking cookie keeps the web master from appearing in the logs. The standard cookie tracks if a user is returning to the site and very roughly how long they have spent on the site. If you look in your browsers "cookies" folder you will see the standard cookie. It is called "statcounter" or something. Other sites use Statcounter too of course so there may be several.
There have been unique visitors since the last time we reset the counter, a few years back. That number is "live", it is the counter. About 20% to 25% of the people that visit stay and read.
From the Department of Paranoia, there is one thing we have come across in our logs that is of interest: If you use a search engine, such as Google, and then go to any site listed in the search results, the site you visit will know you came from a list of search results, whose search engine you used and they will know the term you searched on. This sort of information is valuable to Google and others of course. They use it to serve up ads. Others may use it for other purposes. What we see is people searching on terms like, "Why was my ad flagged", and, "How many flags does it take...?". No news there. You are still not identified as an actual person as in name, address and social security number or something---but over time the search engines can build up a profile on "you" linked to your identity as a web user--that is as a cookie they set on your machine. Doing this, and using the information they get to serve ads, is Googles whole business. What else they do with the information is unknown. Statcounter itself is in the business of selling web statistics packages, not data mining. They offer the free package as an incentive to purchase the full tilt packages. We have never needed more than the free setup nor will our wallets permit us to buy anything else.
This document has it's detractors. This has always been true. In the early days it was the anti-flagging crowd; they hated the entire idea of flagging. They have faded away as it has become obvious just how much the flagging system is needed. Lately it is the "agenda" crowd up in arms. These people have a very specific agenda to push and this document really doesn't fit into that scheme. The Unofficial Flags FAQ has always tried to take a fairly neutral stance on the issues and just focus on one agenda---helping you keep your ad up. While we prefer that you at least stay inside the official craigslist policies, what you do is really your business and whether or not your ad is going to fly is between you and your own community. It's none of our business. We can try to connect some dots for you, but then it's your call. Others do not see it this way. They want you to OBEY THE RULES!! (real, imagined or otherwise) and that's it. Period. Of course there is also a large special agenda crowd around the animal issues, especially Pets. Their tactics vary from simple bullying (often in the Flag Help forum) to sending misinformation directly if they have your email. Some attack this document on the grounds that it "tracks" people. Um...ok. If you have read this far you know our take on that one.
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