Lightbeams, Toledo, Spain

Lightbeams, Toledo, Spain (Photo credit: Jack Cousin).

It’s no secret that the modern Internet includes a number of ways to track a person’s surfing habits. The use of cookies and other technologies are actually a core part of many marketing campaigns, allowing websites to serve up advertisements and offers that are pertinent to the individual’s tastes.

Of course, this tracking can also be a severe downside when viewed in light of privacy concerns. With NSA spying in headlines everywhere, it is worth looking at some of the technology being spawned by this state of affairs.

Enter Lightbeam

Mozilla, the company that brought you Firefox, has released an add-on for its browser that allows you to see exactly who is tracking you online. The Next Web reports:

Lightbeam will now show how third-party tools — whether that’s social sharing options, advertising, personalization features or anything else — as well as first-party ones, track and share data as you move around the Web.

To use it, simply install the plugin and it will start analyzing the websites you visit to provide you with a graphical representation of the tools being used on those sites. From there, you then have the option to share your data with the Lightbeam database in order to contribute to the wider picture of how different elements, some of which are likely to be a little opaque, of the Web are connected.

Simple, efficient, and it displays data in the now popular form of an infographic. It is an admirable first step. I predict that as data security becomes a more mainstream issue we will see many variants and extensions of this approach.

See and Be Seen

Webmasters and marketers have become used to tracking data as a tool to enhance sales and Web traffic. With the advent of Lightbeam, there is now an easy way for the surfing public to track the marketers in return. At present, those concerned about online privacy seem to be a small minority, but as privacy issues assume more prominence in the mainstream media those numbers are growing.

Transparency has always been an important aspect of the Web. With Lightbeam, it once more rears its head, and those who work in online promotion should take note. After all, just as with pop-ups in the not too distant past, it is always a short jump between tools like this and new tools that block tracking altogether.

Collusion Evolved

TIME notes that Lightbeam is not new, but rather an evolution of a prior privacy tool:

Lightbeam is an updated version of an earlier experimental add-on called Collusion. It’s just the latest response to years of tensions between consumers and the companies that want to monitor their Web activity in order to cash in on their data. In addition to building a graphic depiction of where and with what methods your online activity is being tracked, Lightbeam will give the option of sharing your data with a larger database to build out a broader picture of how the online tracking works throughout the Internet.

It is going to be very interesting as we watch this database develop. I’m sure that many users will be quite surprised when they see just how far their data extends.

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