The Ghostery in the machine: Tracking the trackers

Ghostery says it's better to know who's tracking you across the Web than to simply block everyone. What do you think?

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It’s been a lively few days here at TY4NS, arguing about Web tracking and the premature death of the allegedly free Internet. And there’s more to come. But I wanted to give Ghostery a chance to respond to my posts and correct some things I got wrong.

First the corrections. In “Will Do Not Track kill the ‘free’ Internet?” I wrote the following about Ghostery's database of Web tracking companies:

I would argue that we don’t really know what these nearly 800 Web tracking companies know about us, because the only source we have for that information is the companies themselves. So their argument really comes down to two words: Trust us.

That’s not entirely correct. The data that fuels Ghostery comes from a panel of some 300,000-odd anonymous users of GhostRank, which feeds Ghostery information about the types of cookies each Web tracker deposits on their hard drives. “Trust us” still applies to what these 800 companies do with that information, however. (More on that in a future post.)

I also shorted Ghostery on the number of users who’ve downloaded it – more than 5 million, not 2 million as I originally wrote. TY4NS apologizes for the errors.

Andy Kahl, senior product manager at Ghostery, had this to say in response to my piece comparing his product to Abine’s Do Not Track Plus. I post it here in its entirety.

At Ghostery, we take the compact that the millions of Ghostery users have developed with us very seriously. Personally, I feel that we should all be on the same team here – looking for ways to help educated users and promote a safe and transparent Web. Of the more than 5 million people who have downloaded Ghostery, over 300 thousand of those users participate in a voluntary panel through Ghostery, sharing anonymous data which supports Ghostery development by identifying the behaviors of the 800+ trackers in the Ghostery index, and identifying new ones. So, I would like to comment on and clarify two points raised by this article.

1. Ghostery has ties to the advertising industry, which makes it somehow compromised or sketchy.  

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