Lessons in privacy #1 - Block web trackers with Ghostery


Imagine that as you read my latest blog post, I’m standing directly behind you nosily looking at your screen. You might be a wee bit annoyed, but then again could probably tolerate it if you gained some benefit of me being right there with you. Perhaps you wanted to ask me about some detail from a piece I’ve written. That would be cool, as you could just turn around and I’d be there to help.

But then you decide to look at a different site, maybe about cute kittens.

Cute Kitten

We all like to look at cute kittens sometimes, they’re just so furry and fuzzy and cuddle-able aren’t they? You’re really enjoying being there, right in the moment of these kittens when I tap you on the shoulder.

Look dear reader, I know these kittens are great and all that but you really should look at my Rhubarb wine piece. Yeah, it’s got everything you need to know about brewing your own country wine. Forget the kitties, look at my Rhubarb…

Now I’m being annoying.

You shrug me off and start to look at a different site, maybe for some clothes to buy.

They’re really not your style” I tell you in your ear. “Maybe buy the book I mentioned from Amazon, you know the one with the recipe for Rhubarb wine?

I think you’d now quite rightly be telling me to back off and leave your house. And that would be right and proper.

Many, many websites are doing just the same. You are being tracked, turned into data and sold to marketers eager to get you to part with cash. Ever had the strange experience when after looking for a particular product online, visits to completely unrelated sites throw up adverts in sidebars for that product? That’s what I mean.

It makes me pretty sick to be a ‘product’ like this. And when added to the way many lifestyle bloggers are just turning into paid shills to try and earn a living as opposed to living a life, when I find myself tracked like this I get a little angry.

So should you btw.

Now there are many ways that you can start fighting back, and I’ll be outlining the best of them in future blog posts if you are interested. Let me know in the comments or via email.

To start with though I’m going to show you a way to immediately start taking back control of some of the data you give to these sites via trackers and cookies. Follow through with me and you’ll just start to have your eyes opened to just how much of this is underhandedly going on.

We’re going to install a relatively new, but highly effective product called Ghostery.

Visit the homepage and download the client for your browser. In my case I’ve used the extension for Safari on the Mac.

Install as per the instructions (it is really simple) and the restart your browser.

Now, visit one of your favourite websites. As the page loads, ghostly will pop up a list of all of the trackers currently trying to send little pieces of data about you back to their lords and masters.

By clicking the Ghostery icon in your browser menubar, you will be presented with more detailed reading about each tracker as well as a toggle switch to block it.

Click the switch to block anything that you’re not happy with and then reload the page to make sure it is still working. In most cases it will carry on as usual, but on occasion you might find something does not work anymore. In this case, simply unblock trackers one at a time and reload until things work how you want them to.

There are some trackers you want to keep though. For me, I don’t mind things like Wordpress analytics or Twitter buttons. The functionality given is something I accept.

But the key here is that once you start using and understanding Ghostery, you have control over your data leakage, not the website, blogger or ad network. It’s really quite enlightening.

So now, do yourself a massive favour and install and start using Ghostery and let me know your thoughts and discoveries in the comments. And just for fun, let’s see who can find the site with the most trackers. Post your discoveries in the comments.

If this has been of use, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like any more of this type of post, just let me know.

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