Thursday, July 28, 2011

Browser Add-ons Part 2: Ghostery

Maybe most of us have become numb to the amount of advertising we are bombarded with on a daily basis. I'd like to think I am very aware of it, and how it tries to lure me into its trap. Advertising is everywhere, and as a consumer society it is not going to go away. Nearly every website that is business driven is pushing advertisements at us. All of these things seen, and unseen, is driven by a variety of web elements.

In last week's post I mentioned that scripts run in the background, and how you can't really see them running, but you can block them using No Script. Well, the Ghostery add-on will at least divulge the ownership of those scripts. You can customize how you want it to work for you. Ghostery scans each page for scripts, pixels, and other page elements then notifies you of the companies who have code present in the web page you are currently visiting.

One of its great attributes is that it is available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer, which means that you can use it with any of the most popular web browsers. Ghostery installes a menu item in your browser so that you can change settings, view a block log, and update the bugs (also known as page tags) list making it user friendly.

When you first install Ghostery you are given the option to run a wizard to help you configure it. It's a nice tool that helps you get started. Here is a quick look at the options the wizard guides you through...

  1. Run Wizard to customize your options.
  2. Ghost Rank (an optional install): sends web page elements, number of times element has been identified, domains identified, ads and their associated companies, the browser you are using, and Ghostery version info. By participating in Ghost Rank you are helping them improve the way Ghostery works because it collects information it found in the sites you visited. If you choose to participate you are opting in, seems rare these days as most things require you to opt-out.
  3. You can enable an alert bubble which notifies you of companies with page elements on the page you are currently visiting. It's eye opening to see how many companies have elements running in a given page.
  4. You can enable the library to auto update or update manually to get the latest list of companies that operate trackers, ad servers, analytics services, page widgets and other page elements.
  5. You can also enable blocking which allows you to customize a list of trackers and cookies to block. Basically, block it if you don't want it tracking you.

After you install Ghostery I recommend you manually update the bugs list to be sure you have the latest available. I updated the bugs list after I installed Ghostery, and it added another 20 or so items.

So, what happens if you have No Script blocking all scripts on a page while you have Ghostery working too? Ghostery won't see what No Script is blocking because No Script has disabled scripts that Ghostery would otherwise see. Ghostery sees what is running not what isn't.

Where No Script helps prevent dangerous scripts from running, as well as tracking scripts, the Goal of Ghostery is to promote more transparency in regards to our privacy. Ghostery can block elements other than scripts so together with NoScript you have even more control over your browsing.

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