Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together

imageLook – every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit – and, in the real world, most organizations generate that income and make that profit aboveboard, and in clear view. But, that’s not necessarily the process on the Internet. In far too many cases, companies generate revenue by staying far below a user’s horizon – in an underhanded and sneaky fashion.

The tool of choice – a tool, which by its very nature is sneaky and underhanded, is the appropriately named Tracking Cookie. A tool, which not only tracks a user’s footprints across the Web but, the data generated is then used to analyze the user’s online behavior.

It’s this behavior analysis (analyzing links I click on, the content I view, searches I make ….) where I draw the line. I find it disturbing that I have little or no say, in the manner in which I’m tracked as I surf the Internet. And, equally as important – how that information is used.

It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked. I wonder though, that if these same unconcerned users were aware of just how insidious and overwhelming tracking has become – if, they’d continue to be unconcerned.

Should an unconcerned user run the recently released Collusion Firefox add-0n– an add-on which graphs in real-time the “following behavior” of tracking cookies, they might feel less confident that their “I don’t care” perspective is the correct one.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, in describing Collusion at the recent Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference pointed out, that Collusion “allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web. It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.”

Kovacs went on to say that “Collusion will allow us to pull back the curtain and provide users with more information about the growing role of third parties, how data drives most Web experiences, and ultimately how little control we have over that experience and our loss of data.”

I’ve been tinkering with Collusion for the past several days, and I must admit to a new level of unease with this “behind the scenes” look at the nature of tracking now been practiced.

Here’s a screen shot of a spider-web of interaction between companies and trackers, from a short hop around the Internet which I made this morning.

image

I think you’ll agree, that the connection between and amongst trackers and tracking companies, might be more insidious than you had previously considered.

The graphic below (captured from the Collusion site),  briefly explains the  connections illustrated.

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The Collusion add-on is available for download at Mozilla.

Back to the previous graphic for a moment – you’ll notice that you can export the graph. Should you do so, you’ll end up with data which will look something like the following. What you see is a very small portion of the exported data from today’s test.

javascript”],”news.com”:[2855341,”image/png”]},”visited”:false},”adtechus.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1070986,”application/x-javascript”],”cnet.com”:[2853754,”application/x-javascript”],”thestar.com”:[5351704,”application/x-javascript”]},”visited”:false},”adnxs.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1071838,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”],”baselinemag.com”:[2084558,null],”cnet.com”:[2853938,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”image/gif”],”thestar.com”:[5352178,”text/javascript”,”image/jpeg”,”application/x-shockwave-flash”]},”visited”:false},”techrepublic.com”:{“referrers”:{“twitter.com”:[1077104,”text/html;charset=utf-8″]},”visited”:true},”stumbleupon.com”:{“referrers”:{“techrepublic.com”:[1073845,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”pcmag.com”:[1466423,”text/html;charset=utf-8″],”webopedia.com

And yes, there are a truckload of free tools which, to some extent, can impact and reduce the effectiveness of tracking – but, the downside in running with these tools is often a less than enjoyable Internet experience.

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