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Hey Bob Marley, Stop Stealing My Bandwidth

The amazing thing about owning a business is that sometimes the problems are super interesting. Let me tell you such a tale, and in the process, teach you about a nefarious practice called “hotlinking”.

About a month ago, I received an overage bill for traffic to a site that we host. I resell hosting from another provider. That provider was basically saying, “you pay for 100,000 people to visit your site, last month you had 130,000. Pay us more.” Being such an awesome steward of my financial health, I didn’t really look into it. When I got a similar bill last week, this time for even more of an overage, I started to get a bit curious. My first stop was Google Analytics. The visitor numbers I was seeing for the client were FAR lower. It isn’t odd to have those numbers differ since they are counted differently, but what was weird was that while our month over month numbers on Google Analytics were staying consistent, the numbers the hosting company was seeing were growing substantially every month. [Look, I know this part of the story is a bit of a slog. Stick with me, I promise this gets interesting soon.]

Looking at the logs for the website, the hosting company and I were able to determine that another website, bobmarley.com was “hotlinking” to a “Share on Twitter” image of ours. When you put a URL into your browser, that URL brings up a page that likely includes a bunch of images. The images are brought up by URLs on the page. The site you are pulling up, isn’t necessarily hosting that image. So basically, this website was pulling up our "Share on Twitter" button every time someone visited the website. Therefore, we were being charged for the traffic that generated, even though my client didn’t actually receive any additional real visitors to their website.

Now, don’t you worry about a thing. Every little thing will be alright. (I couldn’t resist.)

We were able to resolve this issue by putting some code on the site that prevents this site (or any site going forward) from “hotlinking” to any of our images. At the time of this writing, if you go to the bobmarley.com site and find the image (which is hidden on a secret side panel) it will appear broken since we won’t let them pull the image. I am emailing them to let them know they should fix their site and stop stealing bandwidth from other sites. So likely it will be fixed soon. But you can see the screen capture above.

So that is how it came to pass that a musical legend who has been dead for almost 40 years, was responsible for stealing bandwidth from my client’s site. (Or, at least the far less awesome than us web strategy firm his legacy foundation hired.)

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