While surfing the internet, your data and activities are being tracked by many companies. Some tracking is beneficial and can provide you with a personalized experience on those websites you visit frequently, but some companies collect your data and develop a profile which they then sell. Additionally, others may not safeguard the information they collect very carefully thus leaving it vulnerable to hackers. Ghostery is a PC/Mac browser extension and an iOS/Android privacy browser used to block undesirable tracking to help you take control of your private information. It detects “trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages by Facebook, Google, and thousands of other companies interested in your activity.” It gives you the opportunity to see who is tracking you, learn more about them, gives you links to their privacy policies and opt-out options, and allows you to choose whether or not to block them. Ghostery does not collect any data from users except those who choose to participate in Ghostrank, which collects anonymous information about the trackers you encounter and where you encountered them (not you or your browsing habits) to help them improve their service.
I’ve tried a couple of other extensions (the Chrome versions) that block tracking like Disconnect (also available as a free download for PC and Mac, and a paid premium version for iOS or Android), which has a very nice interface and very clearly organizes the tracking companies by Advertising, Analytics, Social and Content Requests but did not seem to catch as many trackers as Ghostery. I’ve also tried Adguard AdBlocker which seems as comprehensive as Ghostery in the tracking entities it detects, but it only provides a log that lists the companies by URL. Ghostery is the one I prefer at the moment since it is comprehensive and has an easy to read and intuitive interface that provides the names of those tracking me as well as links to more information about those companies. Ghostery is available for free on every browser (including Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera) and every iOS and Android device.
11 thoughts on “Use Ghostery to block unwanted tracking while surfing the net”
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Available for ChromeOS too!! Wonderful app used everyday…
Badger is also excellent!
This page has 16 beacons, widgets and other tracking and social media trackers according to Ghostery.
Is there anyone NOT on the list of tracking sites?
@Alan and Erwin – It’s quite eye-opening to see just how many entities are tracking us, isn’t it? I’m sure that some of the companies collecting analytical data are simply tallies of how many people have visited their website, etc. Anyway, it’s nice to have tools like this available to us to increase our awareness so that we can control how our information is disseminated.
Agreed – website analytics is probably one of the more harmless type of “tracking”, as it’s generally used only at in aggregate, and used to improve user experience. There are definitely malicious tracking beacons however, and it looks like Ghostery is a good way to block the bad stuff, while allowing the stuff (like saving site browsing preferences) that are beneficial. Thanks for the heads up, this is definitely something we’ll check out.
I was commenting ironically on a website posting an article about Ghostery that has about the most trackers of almost any other site I visit. What I would have hoped to see was something from Julie about how they’re going to reduce the amount of trackers or perhaps why they have so many.
I guess The Gadgeteer is irony impaired.
@Alan – I understood your comment when I read it yesterday, but I don’t have the information to respond to it. I can’t speak for Julie, but this is what I read yesterday (courtesy of LesCarter’s link about the parent company of Ghostery):
“…website operators often don’t know what tracking code is being used on their visitors. “The ecosystem of how an ad gets delivered to a web page is incredibly complex,” [Meyer] says…
Although website owners control which ad networks can put content on their pages, those networks often draw on code from third parties, which itself may pull in further code.
“It’s usual for the operator of a website to say, ‘These 10 companies on my site I know about and these 10 I didn’t,’ ” says Meyer.” [Scott Meyer is the co-founder and CEO of Evidon, the parent company of Ghostery.]
Then website operators are doing it wrong and harming the very people supporting their business. Ignorance is no excuse especially when they’re happily profiting from that ignorance. And of course if the very website operators are saying “I dunno” there’s obviously no incentive for the ad networks to make any changes. That would require backbone which is sadly lacking by most online operations, especially when it might impact their profits.
Sounds appealing though I haven’t tried it yet.
There recently was some comment on using GhostRank ant the nature of the parent business. See http://www.technologyreview.com/news/516156/a-popular-ad-blocker-also-helps-the-ad-industry/?ref=rss
I still feel unsettled about privacy concerns mentioned all over. If a database with my credit card is hacked, that’s one thing. But even when personally identifiable, what harm can come of it? Likewise if a site with a lot of tracking of my internet usage is hacked. And you say some of these might get hacked. Have they been? And I never heard of Ashley Madison until a couple of days ago.
@LesCarter – Thanks for the heads up about Ghostrank and the parent company of Ghostery. It would appear that as long as you don’t select the checkbox to use Ghostrank in the Ghostery Options settings, you can avoid having your anonymous data being sent to marketing companies (I somehow got the mistaken impression that by using Ghostrank you were helping Ghostery improve their service). By using Ghostrank, it would definitely appear that Ghostery has a conflict of interest here. It’s definitely worth evaluating this before using this extension.
I understand that many people don’t mind having their data and activities being tracked. It’s a personal preference thing. I personally like being aware of what companies are tracking me, and if I am uncomfortable with it, being able to block them.
You asked if these tracking companies have been hacked and my answer is that I cannot say whether or not they have. It would stand to reason that if there are a lot of companies collecting data on users and their internet activities, and some unscrupulous person out there views that information as valuable, those companies are then vulnerable to attack. It would also seem to me that the problem is not necessarily that your data is out there, but rather that someone with malicious intent can get ahold of it and use it in damaging ways that we may not even be considering.