Do you want some insight into how deeply you are tracked on the web? A simple browser add-on for Firefox provides exactly that. And you might be startled at the results.

As you browse, Lightbeam reveals the full depth of the Web including parts that are not transparent to the average user.

For instance, this blog visited six websites within about five minutes. Lightbeam revealed that these six visits resulted in unseen connections to 428 third party servers/sites – all within minutes.

Apart from the shocking number of connections to servers you probably never knew existed it becomes rapidly clear just how many organisations are interested in your data.
  • The bright thing, excuse the pun, about Lightbeam is that it presents the information graphically so you get an immediate visual impression enabling you to digest the data within seconds. 
  • It is also interactive so you get a real-time visualisation of all the third parties that are active on the website pages you visited. 
  • The visualisation grows with every site you visit and every request made from your browser. For instance, as you browse from one site to another, Lightbeam highlights the third parties that are also active there and shows which third parties have seen you at different sites.

The creator of Lightbeam, Gary Kovacs, did a TED talk about online trackers, Tracking the Trackers. It has received over two million views. If you want to watch it simply click here.

Lightbeam functionality

  • It records all tracking cookies saved on a user's computer through the Firefox browser by the various sites that a user visits. 
  • It differentiates between "behavioural" tracking cookies (those which record specific actions on a site) and other tracking cookies. 
  • At any time during a browsing session you can open a separate tab, using the "Show Lightbeam" option of Tools, to display a graph of sites visited and cookies placed. 
  • This shows when a cookie is used by multiple sites, thus enabling those sites to track the user from site to site. 
  • Lightbeam also allows the user to see which advertisers or other third parties are connected to which cookies.

Shock and horror

At one level many people accept the tracking of their online behaviour. The typical attitude is that it’s not doing any harm. But most are unaware of the extent of it.

A journalist writing for ExtremeTech tested out Lightbeam (or Collusion as it was previously known). He found the tracking connections it revealed to be "quite astonishing.”

He further said: “…you can either use… to shock and appall yourself, or you can use it to show friends and family just how rampant behavioral tracking is.

“Once your mother sees that no less than five companies track her behavior when she visits MSNBC.com, and six when she visits FoxNews.com, she might be a little more cautious."
  • The fact that five or six sites track your behaviour when you visit a website is actually relatively low. Some sites you visit can result in around 30 to 40 ‘trackers.’ 
  • One of the aims of the trackers is to develop information and build a picture about your web browsing to either target you with ads or sell the information on to third parties.

It only takes a few minutes to download and run Lightbeam. While third party tracking might not seem creepy, wait until see your own graph that is generated by Lightbeam. You’ll be shocked.

Stopping trackers in their tracks

If you want to put a stop to third parties tracking you and browse and reclaim your privacy rights check out BullGuard VPN.

It provides complete anonymity by creating a virtual, secure tunnel between your computer and the websites you visit. You’re invisible to third-party trackers who simply can’t see you.

It can also be used on public Wi-Fi which is notoriously insecure so whether you’re using a computer or smartphone on public Wi-Fi in a café your internet movements can’t be seen.

It’s also great way, for example, to check your bank account when  you’re out about or make online purchases. You can use it on any devices, such as a laptop or smartphone, as well as a desktop PC and it’s suitable for any major operating system such as Android, Windows and MacOS.

You can also get BullGuard VPN for a special low-cost launch price. You won’t regret it, though third-party trackers won’t be happy. But, hey… it’s your privacy and your data and no one else has a right to it.