Did you ever want to know exactly who is monitoring your web browsing habits? If so, then Mozilla, the company that brought you Firefox, has a plugin for you.
The program is called Lightbeam. Like Firefox, it’s free. It just takes a little bit of time (how much depends on the speed of your Internet connection) to download.
The product is being billed by Mozilla as a “watershed” moment in the history of web transparency.
It’s well known that when you browse around in cyberspace, you leave a digital trail. This trail is not a mystery to potential advertisers, who want you as a potential customer.
In other words: marketers know where you’ve been. That’s why you’ll see ads for diamonds on many of the websites you visit right after you Googled “engagement ring” and shopped at some of the sites that came up in the search results.
Understandably, the fact that people you don’t know are tracking your browsing habits doesn’t sit too well with some of you. If you’re just as curious about who’s watching you as the watchers are about your favorite cyberspace hangouts, then the Lightbeam plugin might be something you’ll want.
What it does
In a nusthell, Lightbeam will give you a real-time visualization of every site you have visited. But beyond that, it also provides you with information about third-party activity on those sites, including people and organizations who might actually be sharing your data.
In fact, Mozilla is actually encouraging you to install Lightbeam on your browser. The thinking behind this is, if everyone does it, the crowd-sourced data will present the first “big picture” view of what’s happening online, with a particular spotlight on the most active third parties.
Lightbeam will tell you who is advertising on a website, what scripts are being executed there, and which resources on the site are linked to other domains. It should be noted that Lightbeam is not dependent on any particular web hosting technology. So if the foreign website is Linux-based or if it’s a Windows VPS, Lightbeam will still be able to relay the appropriate information.
Pay attention to the man behind the curtain
Lightbeam is actually promising a “Wizard of Oz” moment. No, its not about flying monkeys or houses landing on witches. It’s about creating a web-browsing environment “where users collectively provide a way to pull back the curtains to see its inner workings,” Mozilla claimed.
According to Mark Surman, Mozilla’s executive director, Lightbeam is “a stake in the ground in terms of letting people know the ways they are being tracked. At Mozilla, we believe everyone should be in control of their user data and privacy and we want people to make informed decisions about their Web experience.”
Along these lines, Mozilla has already provided a feature in its browser that disables “cookies.” If you’re not familiar with the meaning of the term, cookies are files that get downloaded from websites to your computer. It’s how some websites “remember” your user configuration options — your username, password, and so on — so you don’t have to set them every time you visit those sites.
However, advertisers can target users based on their cookies. Some people regard this as a violation of their privacy and unsettling. It’s a little like be stalked everywhere you walk and drive when you’re shopping downtown.
Mozilla has recently been responding to “tremendous pressure” in its effort make web browsing more transparent, according to Alex Fowler, the company’s Privacy Officer.
The company claims that it’s responding to increased privacy concerns in the wake of accusations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has potentially violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans with unwarranted spying.
In fact, Mozilla recently enhanced Firefox security after it was revealed that the NSA was exploiting security vulnerabilities in the browser.