In light of government surveillance programs and other privacy concerns, the average American at least has some level of interest in their online privacy. However, even if people are concerned about their data being taken and their browsing habits being recorded, it is not easy to find out who is keeping tabs on you.
Mozilla Lightbeam is here to provide a fix for that, allowing users to see who is recording their browsing habits via the use of tracking "cookies." Lightbeam works within Mozilla's Firefox browser as a plug-in and reveals who is tracking you, and which sites they are monitoring.
Many times when you visit a Web site, snippets of data -- cookies -- are placed on your computer, particularly from large advertising powerhouses such as Google. In doing so, your information is recorded and at the very least, can be used to display more relevant ads that Google, Yahoo and other advertising networks believe you will be more interested in.
Lightbeam is an attempt to fix this issue and will hopefully raise awareness regarding just how much of the average citizen's information is being recorded on the Internet. "It really is a stake in the ground designed to start a conversation about privacy," said Mark Surman, Mozilla's executive director.
"We're figuring out a significant part of how humans interact with each other and that will last for hundreds of years. As we figure that out there are different forces in play, the normal forces of creativity, commerce and government. It's part of society figuring out what the Web should be and our role is to stand up for those core values that the Web was built on, which includes transparency."
There have been a few clunky tools providing similar services in the past, but Lightbeam appears to be the easiest way to see who is tracking you. Lightbeam provides information in various ways but all of it is in real-time.
Cookies placed on someone's computer by an advertiser may well be beneficial from a business perspective. However, with many of these same companies potentially working with the National Security Agency, Internet users are concerned about their browsing habits being released to a government agency.
At the same time, some people simply dislike the idea of being tracked at all, even if it is only for advertising purposes. With Lightbeam being incredibly easy to install and use, it may finally allow people to take some level of control over their online privacy by knowing who is tracking them and when they are doing so.
"If you think about nutrition, it's taken years of policy and public education about different types of food for people to be talk about a healthy diet," Surman said. "This is the same thing, this is saying, 'Let's know a little bit more about what's happening,' then we can get to discussions about what else is being tracked, to building tools to let you protect yourself, to education campaigns about how we want to protect about ourselves."