Lightbeam is a Firefox add-on released by Mozilla that can be used to view not only the sites you’ve been visiting (the sites you knowingly give your info to), but also 3rd party pages that are using some of your information for ads or other purposes (the sites you unknowingly give your info to).
Sometimes websites use your information to deliver advertisements – these are normally accepted with a partial smile by most of us because the ads are relevant and sometimes serve us well. However, sometimes this use of our browsing history or other personal data is frowned upon and seen as misuse or theft.
See what websites are tracking you to by running the Lightbeam add-on and viewing the 3rd party sites in a visual array of website icons. There are a few toggles and info windows that will be of use, so read on to find out how to use these features.
See What Websites Are Tracking You
Take a look at this example image below. It’s actual data that was collected while I used the add-on.
I first visited TechNorms, as indicated by the favicon on the bottom right. I then opened Google from that same page and then searched YouTube from there. I followed all of this by opening CNN. Show a differentiation between the pages you actually visited and those that are 3rd party ones by selecting the “Third Party Sites” toggle. The visited sites have white backgrounds while the 3rd party ones are grey.
You can easily see I’ve only accessed four sites to my knowledge. However, clicking on the TechNorms favicon, I can see 28 sites have been accessed since I landed on our homepage.
Back at the diagram, zoom up with the mouse wheel to view the connected 3rd party sites closer. The commenting system we use is Disqus, so it’s obvious this will be loaded upon launching TechNorms.
So it doesn’t mean that all websites that are displayed in this diagram are tracking you, but it does give you a visual overview of all the websites any particular website is connected with.
However, some sites are connecting you to various pages you surely aren’t at all aware of. If I click on the CNN bubble, I can see an advertising page called Adsonar.
Lightbeam doesn’t tell us what Adsonar is doing with out information, but it shows that CNN is connecting us to them via one of their ad services.
The lines connecting the 3rd party sites indicate a cookie was involved in the share. This means if you logged into CNN to comment on one of their articles, it’s possible one of the 3rd party services is using that data to their advantage. If this causing worry, you can easily block their connection from within the Lightbeam add-on.
Block a site from being accessed in Firefox by choosing the “List” view on the left. Then select the desired website and choose “Block Site” at the bottom. Don’t block sites you access, but only ones you don’t trust or are completely unfamiliar with.
Save your data as a JSON file at any time or completely reset the collected information from the left pane.
Install Lightbeam and browse like normal for a while. Then check back and see what has been collected. Go through the data just to be sure your data isn’t being tracked by a service you disapprove of or are worried about.