See Who’s Watching You With Lightbeam

Mozilla, the open-source publisher of the Firefox browser, has released the second iteration of its add-on called Lightbeam.  Lightbeam will let its users “lift the veil” to see into a murky world that has been prevoiusly only accessible to geeks …  To see who else is looking at their data, browsing habits, and searches on the Internet. 

When you type an address into your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome to name a few) and then hit the enter key, the browser takes you to the page on the internet associated with that address.  But that’s not all that happens.  In many cases, your browser also recieves information and allows the site you visit to store cookie files on your hard disk.  

A cookie is a small file which contains information about your visit to the site and contains “stateful” information about your visit.  The use of the term  stateful canotes the state of your browser at any specific moment. It could include information about things like what page you’re on, what buttons you’ve clicked, what’s in a shopping cart, and even authentication information. 

In addition, cookies from advertisers on the page (called third party cookies) can also be added.  All this happens behind the scenes and without the knowledge, consent, or control of the user.  

Over time, as it seems with anything that is created altruistically for ease and convenience, it’s use can be subverted. Hackers began to exploit ways to get their hands on cookies to carry out their nefarious deeds.  While these unseemly purposes exist, some companies simply want the data they mine from you for marketing purposes. 

Enter Lightbeam.  

Lightbeam is an add-on that runs with Mozilla’s Firefox browser that tracks first and third-party cookies.  The program aggregates data from your browser put there by others so that you can inspect it and have insight into the trail you may be leaving behind as you surf. 

Once Lightbeam is enabled, you get a real time graphic view of who is tracking your data.  You can also drill down to see the sites that are interested in your visit.  A clock function in Lightbeam gives you a chance to see how your data is shared over time.

You may choose to anonymously share your tracking data with Mozilla to further their efforts to better understand and model how this data flows across the Internet. 

If you want to be more proactive in personal security online, you may implement this for free by installing Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Lightbeam add on from their website at… and, if you’re really geeky, you can download, inspect, and even enhance the open-source Lightbeam code yourself! 


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