Uncovering the Reality of the Internet

photo by Anonymous/Pexels 

Image: Grayscale image of man with hand held out towards viewer in shallow focus.

For this post, I downloaded Lightbeam to my Mozilla Firefox browser and surfed the web for a half-hour or so, in order to see what kind and how many third party sites were tracking me… The results were shocking.

Lightbeam is “a Firefox add-on that uses interactive visualizations to show you the first and third party sites you interact with on the Web. As you browse, Lightbeam reveals the full depth of the Web today, including parts that are not transparent to the average user” (Lightbeam for Firefox). Most people do know understand the extent to which third party sites track our internet activity. Before downloading this software, I thought that these sites would only linked to questionable movie and tv streaming website websites, airline websites, or shopping websites, but after looking at the results on the lightbeam graph, I found out that I was very wrong.

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During this half-hour, I visited 10 different websites: a few Google searches, Choices, Asos, Pinterest, Facebook, and Womens Wear Daily, and I was connected to 131 third party sites. I found it absolutely astonishing that in such a short period of time I could be connected to so many websites. I was also surprised that Women’s Wear Daily, the most legitimate website (in my opinion), linked me to the most third party sites. Asos was second worst in terms of third party site exposure, then Choies, then Pinterest, then Facebook, and lastly, Google. WWD is one of the most reputable women’s fashion news magazines and online publications world-wide, so in my mind, this put it in a safe category. Looking back at the webpage, even with ad blocker, there are between 5-10 advertisements on the main page alone. Without ad blocker, that number doubles.

This exercise showed me that, just like airline websites, most other sites collect my data with cookies and link me to third-party  sites regardless of wether I click on ads or not. This goes to show how important it is to delete my cookies and browsing data as often as possible in order to limit how much of my activity is tracked over extended periods of time.

I believe its is very important to be aware of how much of our activity is tracked online, and what that means for our privacy. I highly recommend downloading Lightbeam, you might be surprised at the results of your graph!

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