Almost Every Website You Visit Records Exactly How Your Mouse Moves

Services that replay your digital body language like it’s a movie are extremely common and easy to install

Eric Ravenscraft
OneZero
Published in
4 min readFeb 5, 2020

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Photo: Richard Baker/Getty Images

WWhen you visit any website, its owner will know where you click, what you type, and how you move your mouse. That’s how websites work: In order to perform actions based on user input, they have to know what that input is.

On its own, that information isn’t all that useful, but many websites today use a service that pulls all of this data together to create session replays of a user’s every move. The result is a video that feels like standing over a user’s shoulder and watching them use the site directly — and what sites can glean from these sorts of tracking tools may surprise you.

Session replay services have been around for over a decade and are widely used. One service, called FullStory, lists popular sites like Zillow, TeeSpring, and Jane as clients on its website. Another, called LogRocket, boasts Airbnb, Reddit, and CarFax, and a third called Inspectlet lists Shopify, ABC, and eBay among its users. They bill themselves as tools for designing sites that are easy to use and increase desired user behavior, such as buying an item. If many users add items to their cart, but then abandon the purchase at a certain rough part of the checkout process, for instance, the service helps site owners figure out how to change the site’s design to nudge users over the checkout line.

It felt like observing digital body language.

To understand what this type of tracking looks like in practice, I set up FullStory on my personal portfolio site (I have since removed it). It was surprisingly easy. After signing up for a free trial account, I just copied a small, 23-line script and added it to my site’s header — which would be a simple task for any web developer, but even easier for me since my site uses Squarespace — and the tracking worked immediately. With almost no development or coding experience, I was able to see what every single visitor to my site did.

In an incognito window, I opened my site and browsed around for a minute. When I came back to my FullStory dashboard, I found a video…

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Eric Ravenscraft
OneZero

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.