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Lightbeam for Firefox: find out who’s tracking you online

29 Oct, 13 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

As the internet continues to evolve, issues surrounding privacy remain a common cause for concern. There is growing anxiety among internet users of how their online activities are tracked for commercial purposes. The business model behind this is generally to aggregate a large number of users in order to sell that audience’s aggregate attention, usually in the form of advertising.  After all, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Who’s tracking you online?

In light of these increasing concerns, Mozilla has released a free tool called Lightbeam, which helps users of the Firefox browser identify third-party companies tracking their online behaviour.

The browser add-on is aimed at a mainstream audience and produces a real-time visualisation of all tracking information deposited in the form of cookies on your computer while you browse the internet (see above). Mozilla is careful to stress that cookies themselves are not inherently bad. Rather, internet users should be aware of who they’re being used by, and for what reasons.

According to Mozilla’s privacy and public policy lead, Alex Fowler:

“Third parties are an integral part of the way the Internet works today. However, when we’re unable to understand the value these companies provide and make informed choices about their data collection practices, the result is a steady erosion of trust for all stakeholders”

‘Illuminate the Inner Workings of the Web’

As a part of Lightbeam, Mozilla are also creating a ‘big-picture view’ of how tracking works and how third-party sites are interconnected to numerous other sites. Users of the add-on can opt to contribute their data to a mass directory by simply turning on a share switch. It hopes that this crowdsourced database of trackers will shine a light on the hidden world of data tracking and privacy, which will certainly make interesting reading.

Lightbeam is an open-source tool that is available to view on Github and download direct from Mozilla.

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