One of the Sunday comic strips I recall from my childhood was “The Phantom” – a masked Lone Ranger type hero in a fictional African country. His nickname among the natives was “The Ghost Who Walks.”
We’re all aware that websites are tracking us. But, with free programs, you can become fairly invisible to the websites you visit. A few months ago, I became somewhat of a phantom on the Internet…the ghost who surfs.
The program I use is called “Ghostery.” It allows you to control what trackers, if any, you allow to be active at each website you visit.
When you first arrive at a website, a counter on a small, stylized ghost head at the top right of your screen displays the number of trackers on the site. Clicking the counter then displays each type of tracker and its name. You can then allow or disallow the tracker using a slider. When you return to the website, those tracker settings are remembered.
So what kind of trackers are there? Many of them are “beacons.”
Webopedia.com defines a beacons as:
“Used in combination with cookies, a Web beacon is an often-transparent graphic image, usually no larger than 1 pixel x 1 pixel, that is placed on a Web site or in an e-mail that is used to monitor the behavior of the user visiting the Web site or sending the e-mail. When the HTML code for the Web beacon points to a site to retrieve the image, at the same time it can pass along information such as the IP address of the computer that retrieved the image, the time the Web beacon was viewed and for how long, the type ofbrowser that retrieved the image and previously set cookie values.”
I checked out the website (Krux Digital) of one of the beacons I came across. Here is a statement describing itself: “The company’s platform helps websites protect, manage, and monetize data across all digital screens and sources” (This site had 11 trackers.)
Anothe rtype of tracker is “analytics.” These trackers record what exactly you do at a website. Where did you come from? Where did you first “land”? What page did you go to next? And so on. There are many uses for this analysis. Some of the uses are of course commercial. That may or may not be beneficial for you.
Here’s a sampling of the trackers on popular websites…
News sites have lots of trackers. CNN has 14, most of them beacons. But there’s also trackers with the names “visual revenue” and “audience science.”
USAToday has only four trackers, two of them advertising. The New York Times has 15 trackers, again mostly beacons. And, with 16 trackers, my local newspaper beats the other three news sites.
Then, there’s the two popular shopping sites. Amazon has only one tracker and it is an advertising one. eBay has two trackers, both advertising ones.
The Google site has no trackers. Yahoo has one but it is more than a search engine.
Facebook has one advertising tracker after you log in. Twitter has one analytic tracker on its log-in page. Since I don’t have a Twitter account, I don’t about trackers after that.
Each week, I visit my grocery store’s website to see the weekly sales flyer. It has two trackers, both analytics. I also regularly visit the Wal-Greens site. It has eight trackers, mostly beacons.
I was a bit surprised that Scottrade, which I use to buy and sell stocks online, has 11 trackers. They are mostly beacons and advertising.
Enquiring minds are no doubt wondering about WordPress. It has six, mostly analytics.
If you want some control over being tracked as you roam the web, you can download Ghostery here. (And no, it has no trackers…)