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See all the web bugs tracking you - Ghostery (ghostery.com)
66 points by dcancel on Dec 21, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

The term "bug" is too confusing. I thought for a while when reading your page that I point this service at my website and it somehow searches for errors in the programming. I only kept reading because I wanted to figure out what neat trick you had for that.

I get the spy novel reference now, but I think it's just too abstract and too close to a conflicting term to be of use. Especially when there are terms for that (spyware, cookies) that everyone knows already. Don't reinvent the wheel.

Thanks for the comment, enjoy your blog.

Not looking to reinvent the wheel. Old dinosaurs like myself will remember that the term "web bugs" was in use long before "spyware" and "adware" became popular terms.

I do love the pac man theme.

"bug" is a very "late 90's" term for these things. I think people just accepted that they could be tracked on the internet and mostly forgot about them.

Calling them bugs is just trying to spread FUD. I think a link to a slightly less biased discussion would be better. With clear reasons why they are used, what benefits they have for users, etc

The EFF link used is stupidly outdated and pretty much irrelevant these days - "there is no method of distinguishing Web Bugs from spacer GIFs which are used on Web pages for aligment purposes."

In any event, the use of them is simply because it's easier and less prone to error than the webserver doing the call itself (Also harder for webmasters to tamper etc).

For instance, you could easily setup your webserver to send over information about each visitor to quantcast, doubleclick, google etc etc, and the user would never know. The only issue with that approach would be that quantcast etc would need to trust that the IP etc you're providing is correct, and you're being truthful in terms of page views etc.

You know what the easiest thing for an advertising network to do would be though? Setup some innocent domains, and host prototype.js etc there. Then tell large websites that use the ad network (Under NDA or something) to innocently link to that version of prototype.js.

Actually not trying to spread FUD at all. I'm the founder of one of the companies detected, Lookery.com, before that Compete.com, which relied on 3rd party clickstream sources.

It's not the data that is sent that is a reason for concern but the "cookies" attached to that data especially when unified across sites.

Anyway the reason to use the tool is to alert you to what the page your on might be doing. I.e. Visit any popular newspaper site and you'll that beyond web analytics trackers and ad networks your data is being sent to behavioral tracking companies like Tacoda and Revenue Science.

Thanks for the comment, ;dc

But considering the fact that you can view a users history with simple css link color hacks...

I'm skeptical though. I think the people who are worried about this sort of thing will likely be already using adblock or disabling javascript, 3rd party cookies, 3rd party scripts etc etc.

Your totally right. If your worried about web bugs you can and probably already run tools like you mentioned.

Ghostery is for those of us, like me, who just want to know what ad networks, widgets and other web bugs the sites I visit are using.

Cheers, David

In theory, I think you could forward traffic to quantcast, doubleclick, etc. but wouldn't this cost more bandwidth?

Now that's some clever concepting and branding: the allusion to Pac Man is very cute. Maybe take the idea further and tell people more specifically what they "really" are: Ghost Scripts something of the like instead of calling them web bugs.

The linked page to EFF is very informative actually. After reading ghostery.com, I had no idea what this was about. The EFF page made it clear to me. (I actually never really thought about that problem before)

I think ghostery.com should explain better what it is on their own page. The small text sounds as if web bugs are a good thing.

On a related note, it seems to me that advertising companies like DoubleClick aren't in the news as much as they could. I feel like I never hear anything about them, and in particular in terms of privacy issues, while they should be amongst the first to be suspected and talked about. No?

Then the "free" world on the net is more Orwellian, than you could imagine in your wildest dream. All the scare stories about China internet surveillance are a joke in comparison to what goes by in the name of advertising. And this is the trouble with GOOG, and zeitgeist:

"It's data that's practically a printout of what's going on in your brain: What you are thinking of buying, who you talk to, what you talk about." --Kevin Bankston, staff attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Add to this GOOG CEO's AAPL board membership and their 1984 Superbowl ad, and be scared to death with the alu macbook digital restriction management.

ps: DoubleClick is related to GOOG (layoffs); the latter also swept up urchin.js -- look for this program on your PC, and dig into what it does. Far more than a "stray" pixel.

As to understand why this fuss about advertising: it is an extremely latent and powerful means of exercising power. I would suggest Adam Curtis, Century of the Self in particular. (e.g. from Brewster Khale's archive.org)

For those who vote down: take your time to also put down what is factually wrong; or what is untrue nor real in the above.

"bug" is appropriate in the "spy" sense of "bugging" a room. "Web Spies" might get the point across better. Wait until you see Persistent Identification Elements. That's what is being used now, because people have caught on to cookies.

It makes sense once you understand what Ghostery is doing, but it has too many other well-known and totally different meanings. When you first read the page though, it's just confusing. Just call them spyware cookies or some catchphrase everyone will understand immediately.

When you're trying to explain what you do it's best to go with words people know and leave coining new terms to Snoop Dogg.

I created Ghostery so I could see what trackers, analytics and widgets sites I visit use. Very different use case than the misnomer "spyware cookies".

Spyware cookies are something invented by Spyware software vendors to sell more software.

"Spyware cookies" miss the issue IMHO. It is the responsibility of the sites you visit to remain transparent; focusing on "cookies" incorrectly makes it a 3rd party service issue, i.e. tell me who allowed the cookie to be set in the first place not just that it exists.

Ok, perhaps there's a better term then. I hadn't given it much thought. I just feel like "web bug" is too confusing.

Their "No Spyware" image links to http://www.siteadvisor.com/sites/ghostery.com , which says only that the website is queued for testing.

Since it is a Firefox extension, you can just open up the package and look at the JavaScript (my quick perusal saw nothing out of the ordinary). Still, it would be nice if they said "Ghostery parses the web pages you visit to find web bugs" or something.

Your right I'm waiting for them to review the site. I meant to link to our softpedia "clean" page, http://www.softpedia.com/progClean/Ghostery-Clean-115003.htm...

But your right, being an extension you can just peruse the source yourself.

I like your description better than mine, I'll change it to something a little easier to understand. Thanks!

The linked EFF page seemed to have "Doubleclick" bug! Then I realized that it is flagged for just having "ad.doubleclick.net" in the text.

Anyway, this is a good tool... Thank you.

Very nice. The logical extension would be to allow easy blocking of certain bugs and/or blocking all bugs on certain sites.

Good idea. Thanks for checking it out.


Thanks for the comments. I'll incorporate everyone's feedback in the next version.

I plan on adding the ability to click on any of the web bugs and find out more about that bug. The pages that you land on will be on a wiki so they'll be open to additions.

excellent idea for a feature add.

Great idea! Is there a Safari version planned?

A bookmarklet version is on its way which will work on any browser, including Safari.

holy ho ho ho xmas http://www.listenarabic.com

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