Lightbeam: how to see who is watching you on the internet
Upgraded Mozilla add-on allows users to see which organisations are tracking their web use
LIGHTBEAM, a new download available today, will help web users see which commercial organisations are tracking their moves on the internet. The free download, produced by Mozilla, the software community behind the Firefox browser, claims to be a "watershed" moment in the battle for web transparency.
So, what exactly is Lightbeam?
Anyone who browses the internet leaves a digital trail, which can be used by commercial organisations, such as advertisers who track your interests to tailor their adverts. Lightbeam, which is essentially a re-launch of Mozilla's Collusion download, allows users to see a real-time list of every third-party accessing their browser for each website they visit. This includes organisations such as market researchers that might be sharing your data to other parties.
What does it do?
Users can view third-party organisations in a spider-web graphic of all the websites they have visited, as well as the sites they have not visited but which still connect to their browser. This information can also be viewed as a list or on a clock graphic that shows how many third-party websites have accessed your browsing choices at any one time. The default view mode is daily, but you can also see data for weekly use or simply the last website you viewed. You can also block individual sites from connecting with your browser.
Does it have any limitations?
Lightbeam is currently limited to desktop browsers, so it cannot be used on mobile phones. Its launch is partly in response to increased privacy concerns following revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was tapping into servers of internet firms to track online communication. While Lightbeam can list the third-party websites that firms such as Google and Facebook are sharing your clicks with, it is unlikely to detect high-level surveillance. "If Snowden confirmed the suspicion that the spooks are watching web users, Lightbeam could be a way for people to get to grips with the more mundane, low-level surveillance that remains just as mysterious to many," says Techworld.
How is it different to Collusion?
Mozilla has tried to make the download easier to use and is now focusing on collecting crowd-source data in a bid to show the extent of intrusive web behaviour. By default, the information users see on Lightbeam is not shared with Mozilla. However, users can now opt to share the data anonymously to help Mozilla and its research partners produce the first "big picture" view of web tracking. Mozilla says the database is an "educational tool" and is being created in "an effort to create more transparency". It does not log IP addresses, information is aggregated anonymously and users can uninstall Lightbeam to prevent any further data collection. ·