Risks With Third-Party JavaScripts And How To Mitigate Them

You likely have plenty of 3rd party JavaScript and tags implemented on your site. These JavaScript allow you to track user behavior, help with marketing analytics, retargeting, connect various data sources, etc.
We trust these JavaScript. We trust that they will keep their promise and will work flawlessly. Right?

Well, most of the time that's the case. Who won't trust tracking pixels from Google, Facebook, etc? However, our blind faith in these JavaScript leads us to trust most of our marketing technology JavaScript. We put them on our site and assume that they have been fully tested and will not cause any issues.

One of our clients learned that this trust can lead to disaster. Once such a tracking code provided by session recording and heat mapping tool, HotJar, caused the client site to go down. HotJar used a common JavaScript library used by many sites that somehow clashed with other sites that were using the same JavaScript library. The issue affected several sites causing hours of frustration. For our client, the developers had to be pulled from other tasks to figure out what was wrong. Since they could not identify anything wrong with their code, the pulled out the Adobe Launch code from the site and the sites worked.

That was a good step for them because their first task was to bring the site up. But in doing so they removed the whole Adobe Launch container, which meant we lost all Digital Analytics tracking for few hours.

Finally, the issue was identified, and by that time HotJar had also posted about this issue and fixed the issue.

The net result was the loss of tracking for a few hours and developers' mistrust in all the marketing analytics JavaScript that we must now deal with.

What can we do to prevent such things in the future?

  1. Understand the QA and release process of these 3rd party vendors.
  2. Understand and document the risk associated with some of the vendors as not every organization will have resources that Adobe, Google, and Facebook can provide.
  3. In case of issues, remove high-risk JavaScript immediately and investigate the issue with the 3rd party vendor.

Note: We use HotJar extensively and believe this was a mistake that they have learned from too. However, it highlighted an issue that you should pay attention to.

 

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