Most Internet users at this point understand that Web sites routinely and extensively track the behavior and movements of their visitors. It’s an unsettling reality. But few people have a handle on just how widespread and pervasive the practice is. Now, a developer has released an add-on for Firefox called Collusion that enables users to see exactly which sites and third parties are tracking them, in real time.
The add-on is the work of Atul Varma, a Mozilla Labs employee, who created it as a way for users to get a little better understanding of the giant matrix of sites that all track and share data about user movements. The Collusion add-on shows users a visual representation of the constellation of sites, ad companies, social networks and others that follow users around the Web, drawing a compelling picture of just how much of this activity goes on.
In a blog post, Varma said that he developed Collusion as a sort of exercise to help educate users on how cookies and tracking on the Web work.
“I actually didn’t know a lot about tracking myself, so I whipped up a Firefox add-on called Collusion to help me visualize it better. The results were a little unsettling,” Varma wrote.
“I’ve put a demonstration up at collusion.toolness.org,
which takes you through five popular websites and visualizes the data
collection companies that track you across them. From there, you can
download the add-on if you want to see the tracking visualization of
your own browsing behavior evolve in real-time.”
Once a user has the Collusion add-on installed, all she needs to do to see the picture of who’s tracking her is to traipse around the Web while leaving the Collusion site open in another tab. Returning to the Collusion tab will reveal the results of the tracking. Varma said in his post that Collusion relies on the tracker list maintained by PrivacyChoice, the group behind the TrackerBlock add-on.
Behavioral tracking and the privacy and security concerns raised by the practice have become a serious issue, as more and more users have become aware of the extent of the practice. Congress is considering some legislative remedies to the problem, including a proposed Do Not Track list, and the major browser vendors are implementing their own technologies to help users take control of who can track their movements around the Web.
Google has added a do-not-track extension to Chrome that enables users to permanently opt out of tracking on specific sites, and Microsoft also has included tracking protection in Internet Explorer 9. Mozilla also included an anti-tracking feature in Firefox 5, which was released in June.