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Ghostery

Spy back on them. And block them.


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Here we are getting paranoid because the NSA have their hooks and crooks into everything we do online. iOS is total toast. Yes all your iPads and iPhones are vulnerable. They get into the backbones and undersea cables. They're everywhere.

But we forget there's another sort of parasite out there. And whilst we've been frolicking like babes in a walled garden, they've built an entire microcosm around us. They're the Googles and the Doubleclicks and they're grabbing your data from your fawning browsers.

Let's take Safari as an example. Let's start a pristine session. There are no caches remaining, no cookies, no nothing. Let's try one website. Bezos' Washington Post.

We let the page fully load, then we wait. And we open our preferences at the Privacy tab. Remember: we accessed one site.

Read the writing. '25 websites stored cookies and other data'. You got cruft from 25 websites from visiting only one. Imagine how this builds up over time, over a typical surfing session. What do they all want anyway?

There's a way to fight back. And it's called Ghostery.



Ghostery comes as an extension. And it's as easy as downloading, then letting Safari install it.

There are other better known ad blockers such as NoScript, but they don't necessarily work with a better OS X browser. And there can be a disadvantage to Ghostery, as explained on its Wikipedia page.

Ghostery blocks sites from gathering personal information. But it does have an opt-in feature named GhostRank that can be checked to 'support' them. GhostRank takes note of ads encountered and blocked, and sends that information, though anonymously, back to advertisers so they can better formulate their ads to avoid being blocked.

This was covered first by Mashable, then by Lifehacker. It certainly sounds like owners Evidon have a dual and contradictory role, but their Adam DeMartino has this to say.

The data we collect in GhostRank doesn't contain any information about the actual ads that were seen by panel members. Rather, we simply report on the technologies that are used to deliver those ads, the performance characteristics of the URLs those technologies were seen on, and if the user blocked that particular technology company. GhostRank can't see the actual ads or anything about the criteria that were used to target them.

So the idea's to not opt for GhostRank. And an egress monitor can check what the plugin sends to the mother ship. But one can't deny the pure pleasure of seeing who's tried to sneak in and knowing you blocked them. Some examples:

  • Mashable sets 10. Advertising stuff, analytics stuff, two widgets from Facebook, and two beacons.

  • Lifehacker sets more. One beacon comes from ScoreCard Research. Click on it in the drop-down and you end up here:



    The Ghostery page also reports on where the malware beacon can be found.



    Good stuff.

  • Apple sets one. A beacon from Omniture.

  • MacSurfer sets five. Including a beacon from ScoreCard Research.

The Ghostery interface runs mostly through Safari itself. There seems to be one small blooper in the interface.



They might have used a pushbutton instead of a tick box to access the options.

When you get down to the 'blocking options' you'll see how thoroughly they've documented the entire industry.

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