#4—Privacy and Security: Learning from Lightbeam

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This week we were asked to download Firefox web browser and use their add-on called Lightbeam to track out third party interaction online. This is a review on my experience.

Lightbeam is a add-on designed for Firefox web browser. The purpose of Lightbeam is to help internet users visualize third party sites and cookies that emerge through sites we use. Cookies are snippets of code embedded in your browser. The purpose of some cookies is for identification of the user and safety, however they are also used by third party sites to track your movement across the web and therefore target you with specific ad content. Third party sites use the information that these cookies provide in order to further developed their market and target you with related advertisements to the content being used on the internet.

The Lightbeam interface provides a data visualization of the content you have explored online and what third party sites track your cookies. After using Lightbeam for the first time I found it  could be a bit confusing, I found the graph option to be the easiest to interact with. However the list and Clock are great visual aids as well, it just depends one how you interpret data. 

The graphs can be a little bit confusing to read at first but I quickly figured out that the purple lines represented the cookies and which lead to third party use. I was able to make the connection between social media buttons on sites. These social media buttons left a third party cookie trail to the social media sites.

One thing that I wasn’t surprised to see was that google was providing the most third party involvement. There was googleadservice, googlevideo, googlesyndication, googleanalytics, ajax.googleapis, gstatistics, googleusercontent, and more. Another interesting point was sites that I accessed through their main URL often had similar sites like the Google example, that acted as third parties. For example while using Facebook.com I was linked to fbcdn.net and with Vimeo.com I was linked to vimeocdn.com and so on.

Overall I found this add-on very interesting to use and really exposed me to the vastness of my digital footprint. When see certain add on my side-bar I am no longer surprised at the results I used to think to myself: “ what relation does online shopping have  when I am searching for results in a sociology course?” It turns out that the internet know what I want to see better than I do, which I can’t say I’m all too comfortable with. 

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