Update: Collusion is Now Called Lightbeam

In one of my earliest posts, I mentioned a Firefox add-on called “Collusion”, which displayed third-party tracking cookies in a circle graph, allowing you to see from what sites these cookies are coming. After its experimental phase ended and the add-on launched for real, it changed its name to Lightbeam. This add-on is an important step in understanding how your activity is being tracked simply by going about your everyday business online. Many people might see an alarming number of circles and triangles fanning out from their favorite websites, while others who are more conscious about their online privacy will see very few. The less white you see on your Lightbeam add-on, the better:

Lightbeam

It’s never too late to take privacy into your own hands. Do you want to be advertised to every time you open up your browser? Are you sure you want strangers and corporations finding out your likes and dislikes for the sole purpose of being better equipped to sell you something? Keep in mind that Lightbeam only shows you who is tracking you; it doesn’t do anything to prevent it from happening. To maximize your security at even the most basic level, install Adblock Plus and Ghostery. It takes a while to set up so you don’t block your favorite social buttons, or to show support for your favorite Youtube channels that make money from ad revenue, but it’s well worth your time. Time is not an excuse, because it only takes minutes. Difficulty is not an excuse, because setup is very easy. What are you waiting for?

Buzzword: Clickbait

What is clickbait? It’s a term used to describe sensationalist headlines used specifically for generating traffic. The “bait” part of this Internet portmanteau comes from “bait and switch”: you are promised one thing but given something else after you’ve paid. While on the surface it may seem harmless, the reason clickbait exists is to generate traffic and revenue. More traffic means more ads may be loaded, which in turn generates money for the host site. You might’ve seen something like this all over Facebook:

Untitled

Rather than a simple explanation of what the video is about in the title, it instead uses a hyperbolic statement. Most of these videos are uploaded to Youtube, but take a look at the URL; rather than a direct link, the host site, Distractify, embeds the video link so that it can use its own titling scheme. The actual name of the video is “Natural Pools – Natural Pool selfbuild”. So why do this? Why jump through so many hoops just to get you to visit their site to load ads most people will probably never see or click on? Think back to my earlier post on our insidious little friend, the tracking cookie. Each time your computer loads an ad or website, tracking cookies are used to gather information about you and your activity; this data can include geographical locations, other sites you’ve visited, your email address, and if you choose to log in via your social networks, ANY AND ALL DATA YOU’VE CHOSEN TO LIST AS PUBLIC ON YOUR PROFILES.

So how many tracking cookies can you expect to see from your average site? Usually 1-3, which is the case with popular social sites like Reddit and Youtube. How many are on clickbait sites like Distractify? According to a handy add-on called Ghostery, there are 12 tracking cookies on that page alone. TWELVE!

ghostery

Three of them are overtly advertising, four are social widgets, and the remaining five are analytics trackers – cookies used to study your behavior online. They will gather information that affects what ads are shown to you, what videos are suggested to you at a later date, the types of emails you receive, all with the main purpose of manipulating your behavior. If you think Facebook’s recent psychological “study” was offensive and wrong, trackers and advertisers have been doing it for years, and right under our noses! Here are some browser add-ons that will make your life a lot simpler. If you have any to add, please share:

Adblock Plus: Prevents ads and trackers from loading when you visit a website. Also blocks ads on Youtube so you can enjoy the video without being interrupted. Note: these are indiscriminate, so if you want to support your favorite broadcaster, you’ll have to manually turn it off for them to get ad revenues.

Ghostery: Tracks the trackers attempting to load on a website, blocks them, and gives you a description of what they do and who they are. Highly recommended. Updates frequently.

Lightbeam (Formerly Collusion): Shows you the third party trackers connected to any site you’ve allowed cookies to be installed. Wonderful tool.