Lightbeam from Mozilla shines light on online tracking

Oct 26, 2013 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) —Marketing professionals often tell the public that tracking Website visitors has its positive side. After all, businesses offering services can transform the data they collect to produce more relevant ads and promotional content for users. They can get a better grip on customer tastes. Retailers can keep up with user preferences so that customers can get what they want. All the same, one cannot take away that uncomfortable human response that someone from behind a curtain, which is not see-through, is watching you. The concept of tracking and being tracked is one that raises concerns for more than just a few.

Mozilla is now announcing a way to see who is watching you with its release of an add-on called Lightbeam. This is a Firefox add-on that will help Firefox to both see and understand who is behind the data-tracking curtain. Announced Friday by Mozilla, the software community behind the Firefox , the plug-in is to show how one's Internet browsing is being monitored. You can stop Lightbeam at any time by disabling it or uninstalling the add-on. Your Lightbeam data can be easily saved or deleted. Mozilla's team points out that the "bad" in tracking lies in our lack of awareness of who is tracking and why.

"Not all tracking is bad. Many services rely on user data to provide relevant content and enhance your online experience. But tracking can happen without the user's knowledge," according to Mozilla. "It should be you who decides when, how and if you want your browsing data to be shared. We recognize the importance of transparency and our mission is all about empowering users—both with tools and information."

Once the curtain is lifted, the Mozilla idea is that the user can make better, informed decisions about protecting privacy. Lightbeam reveals the parts of tracking that are not transparent to the average user. Viewers get to see third-party sites that one interacts with on the Web. Lightbeam shows relationships between these third parties and the sites you visit, relationships which one may not have been aware.

Lightbeam comes to users via a download produced by Mozilla. The browser extension can create a real-time graph of all of the tracking cookies being deposited on your browser in your daily travels across sites.

The add-on has three graphic representations, Graph, Clock and List. The Graph view is a visualization of every site you visit and third-party requests made from your browser. The Clock view shows connections over a 24-hour period. The List view has options for zooming in.

Meantime, Mozilla is asking users' help so that they can learn something too. Users can contribute their data to Mozilla's Lightbeam database, a central open database showing how first- and third-party sites are connected to each other. Mozilla said, "Data from Lightbeam can help us and others to understand third party relationships on the web and promote further research in the field of online and privacy."

The user also has the opportunity to disable crowdsourcing, however. The user can turn it off at any time. Lightbeam has its own "Privacy Notice," in which Mozilla says, " If you choose to send Lightbeam data to Mozilla (that's us), our policy describes how we handle that data."

The code for Lightbeam has been posted to Github. Lightbeam was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Lightbeam was also helped by students at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in implementing visualizations for the add-on.

Explore further: A Closer Look: Your (online) life after death

More information: www.mozilla.org/en-US/lightbeam/

Related Stories

Firefox has Click-to-Play cure for plugin plague

Jan 30, 2013

(Phys.org)—Mozilla this week took an important step to strengthening and in some cases restoring confidence in Firefox as a class-act browser. The community issued an announcement by Mozilla's Michael Coates, ...

Firefox 4 has simpler design, more privacy control

May 11, 2010

(AP) -- The next version of the Firefox browser, set for release by the end of the year, will pare down the software's menus and certain user options while giving Web surfers more control over privacy.

Mozilla resists request to remove Firefox tool

May 06, 2011

Mozilla, the non-profit developer of the Firefox Web browser, is holding off on complying with a government request to remove a software tool meant to circumvent federal efforts at curbing Internet piracy.

Mozilla unleashes sleek new Firefox Web browser

Mar 22, 2011

A fast, sleek new version of Firefox was released on Wednesday to vie Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) and Google Chrome in the fiercely competitive market for Web browsing software.

Recommended for you

A Closer Look: Your (online) life after death

1 hour ago

Sure, you have a lot to do today—laundry, bills, dinner—but it's never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil.

Web filter lifts block on gay sites

1 hour ago

A popular online safe-search filter is ending its practice of blocking links to mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups for users hoping to avoid obscene sites.

Protecting infrastructure with smarter CPS

9 hours ago

Security of IT networks is continually being improved to protect against malicious hackers. Yet when IT networks interface with infrastructures such as water and electric systems to provide monitoring and control capabilities, ...

Apple helps iTunes users delete free U2 album

22 hours ago

Apple on Monday began helping people boot U2 off their iTunes accounts after a cacophony of complaints about not wanting the automatically downloaded free album by the Irish rock band.

Habitual Facebook users: Suckers for social media scams?

Sep 15, 2014

A new study finds that habitual use of Facebook makes individuals susceptible to social media phishing attacks by criminals, likely because they automatically respond to requests without considering how they are connected ...

YouTube to go offline in India on Android phones

Sep 15, 2014

YouTube users in India will soon be able to save videos from the Google-owned service, making it possible to watch them offline, and the feature will eventually be available globally, the company said Monday.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Neinsense99
1.5 / 5 (6) Oct 27, 2013
my buddy's mother makes $80/hour on the computer. She has been without a job for 5 months but last month her paycheck was $17143 just working on the computer for a few hours. great post to read...................................-EDITED-OUT-.com

One wonders if the tracking data is given to bleepholes that post spam like that.
alfie_null
not rated yet Oct 27, 2013
Not much nice can be said regarding tracking. Nevertheless, marketers try. It's a chuckle to see marketing-speak like "enhance the user experience". Still waiting, though, to read of some company proclaiming "we were able to reduce the price of product X because of tracking".

It's worth remembering the goal of corporations is to make as much money for as little effort as possible. That's not the same as providing customers with the best value.