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  • Caroline Keen

Visualise tracking technologies

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Last July I downloaded an experimental add-on for Firefox called Lightbeam. It shows you all the third party tracking cookies placed on your computer while visiting various websites. It displays a graph of the interactions and connections of sites visited and the tracking sites to which they provide information.

It is a great way to visualize how data about you is collected, and shared with third parties, often data brokers. It shows you in real time tracking information left behind on your computer – yes cookies that don’t vanish once you leave a site.

Many parents I interviewed assumed that cookies were only active while they visited a site and served to improve the customer experience. Certainly session cookies do exist but tracking technologies have got far more complex. Most tracking tech remains on internet devices, and convey information to third parties on an ongoing basis.

So here is an image of the Lightbeam I just installed on Chrome and having typed in one local media site it reveals how data is automatically shared with third parties.

Here is an image of the tracking activity on my Mozilla Firefox browser having installed Lightbeam in July last year. It shows how many cookies and third part tracking activities are actively happening on the computer.

This proved shocking to me, since I hardly used the laptop. The more you zoom in on the real-time video the more dense the web of third party trackers appears.

The more worrying point is that each of the sites we visit have data policies and procedures and when we tick the box to sign on to use seemingly ‘free’ website services, we are legitimizing the collection of data from our computers. So companies we have never heard of are actively collecting data on an ongoing basis from our computers through data sharing agreements.

It is worth looking through data and privacy statements when signing on to new sites, apps and platforms in order to take know what data is collected, how it is used, and if it is shared with other third parties. You may have the opportunity to take advantage of opt-out functions should they be available.

More on this to come in future blogs.

Have a great day.


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