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.
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.
The EFF link used is stupidly outdated and pretty much irrelevant these days - "there is no method of distinguishing Web Bugs from spacer GIFs which are used on Web pages for aligment purposes."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.
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,
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.
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?
"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)
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.
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.
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!
Anyway, this is a good tool... Thank you.
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.