One of the biggest problems with online spying is simply the fact that so many corporations are doing it, collecting more data about you than even the NSA can legally gather… and then selling it to the NSA. Mozilla wants to bring more transparency to this process, so they’ve got a new Firefox add-on, Lightbeam, that does just that.
Lightbeam, formerly known as Collusion, simply creates a “spider-web”, a visual representation of who’s tracking you as you go about your day visiting various sites. The demo does a good job of explaining it, and it’s a compelling thing to try.
Mozilla’s first point is a key one, which is that behavioral tracking is neither good nor bad; it’s just another technology, really, and most sites are fairly transparent about what they do. Behavioral tracking is why when you sign into Google and type “red” in the browser bar, it knows whether you want the Red Sox, to go to Reddit, or watch Red Dawn; it enables a lot of what makes the Internet more convenient and is often tied to features we’ve specifically asked for online.
And, to be honest, these tracking networks are only so good at their jobs. Just to share a personal example, a lot of these networks have been convinced that I, the whitest of whitebreads, am somehow Latino. How they got this idea, I’ve never been able to figure out. I don’t even speak Spanish and only have a small handful of Latino friends, and, yet, like clockwork, every few months or so the ads I see will suddenly all be in Spanish. This will last for weeks or months and then end as mysteriously as it began.
That said, it’s always good to know how a website works, and Lightbeam is more useful for explaining that in a way that’s easy for all of us to understand. Awareness is, after all, the first step to change. The second step will be making Facebook a subscription service.