Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together

imageLook – every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit – and, in the real world, most organizations generate that income and make that profit aboveboard, and in clear view. But, that’s not necessarily the process on the Internet. In far too many cases, companies generate revenue by staying far below a user’s horizon – in an underhanded and sneaky fashion.

The tool of choice – a tool, which by its very nature is sneaky and underhanded, is the appropriately named Tracking Cookie. A tool, which not only tracks a user’s footprints across the Web but, the data generated is then used to analyze the user’s online behavior.

It’s this behavior analysis (analyzing links I click on, the content I view, searches I make ….) where I draw the line. I find it disturbing that I have little or no say, in the manner in which I’m tracked as I surf the Internet. And, equally as important – how that information is used.

It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked. I wonder though, that if these same unconcerned users were aware of just how insidious and overwhelming tracking has become – if, they’d continue to be unconcerned.

Should an unconcerned user run the recently released Collusion Firefox add-0n – an add-on which graphs in real-time the “following behavior” of tracking cookies, they might feel less confident that their “I don’t care” perspective is the correct one.

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, in describing Collusion at the recent Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference pointed out, that Collusion “allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web. It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.”

Kovacs went on to say that “Collusion will allow us to pull back the curtain and provide users with more information about the growing role of third parties, how data drives most Web experiences, and ultimately how little control we have over that experience and our loss of data.”

I’ve been tinkering with Collusion for the past several days, and I must admit to a new level of unease with this “behind the scenes” look at the nature of tracking now been practiced.

Here’s a screen shot of a spider-web of interaction between companies and trackers, from a short hop around the Internet which I made this morning.


I think you’ll agree, that the connection between and amongst trackers and tracking companies, might be more insidious than you had previously considered.

The graphic below (captured from the Collusion site),  briefly explains the  connections illustrated.


The Collusion add-on is available for download at Mozilla.

Back to the previous graphic for a moment – you’ll notice that you can export the graph. Should you do so, you’ll end up with data which will look something like the following. What you see is a very small portion of the exported data from today’s test.


And yes, there are a truckload of free tools which, to some extent, can impact and reduce the effectiveness of tracking – but, the downside in running with these tools is often a less than enjoyable Internet experience.


Filed under downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Opinion, Privacy

18 responses to “Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together

  1. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    It really is sad how much attention to security we internet users have to pay. If it’s not malware, it’s these damn trackers. I use ghostery, ip proxies, and all that stuff but it really is a never ending battle. If there is a buck to be made out of something, you can bet the scum will be there to make it. Quietly too, without anyone knowing.

    • Hey Mal,

      You’re so right – “it really is a never ending battle.”

      More and more I’m finding, that I have to disengage my extensions just to interact with a web site. We’re at the mercy of these bandits.

      Since we think so much alike – I knew you’d comment on this one. 🙂



  2. Mal

    Lol Bill, you know me to well dude. Anything security related, I am there.

  3. Pradip Shah

    At times I really wonder about the extent of bitching going on about privacy and tracking on Internet. You visit Internet you are going to be tracked, that is a given. You always DO have the option of NOT using the internet altogether. Want to avoid mobile phone tracking ? Simply don’t use it ! Want to prevent illegal use of mobile phones like by terrorists ? Simple solution – ban burner phones AND the capability to turn off caller id.

    Something strange about priorities of an average citizen. Do they think privacy on Internet is a fundamental right ?. NO ! How about franchise ( voting right) ? Even that does NOT appear to be a fundamental right the way it is implemented in the US. I think average Joe needs his head examined. By far we Indians are much better off.

    • Hey Pradip Shah,

      Let’s be clear – it has NOT always been a given that using the Internet led to the invasive type of tracking we NOW face. There is nothing strange in the least, that those of us who object to what is now virtually an uncontrolled invasion of personal privacy, should react strongly against it. The right to privacy IS a fundamental right, and like all such hard earned rights, there are times when standing up against those who would infringe on those rights is necessary.

      The rest of your comment lacks the most elementary proof to support your assertions.


  4. Jimi

    When I come to your site, Bill, Ghostery says that I’m tracked by these “organizations” : Facebook Social Graph, QuantCast, Google Adsense, Google Analytics, ScoreCard Research Beacon, StatCounter, VigLink, and WordPress Stats…

    • Hey Jimi,

      Since this is a WordPress hosted site, I have no control over which cookies are set, unfortunately. ScoreCard Research will continue to “follow” so, in a real sense this is a “tracker”. The remaining cookies are simple text file cookies and are not capable of tracking.

      Your comment drives home the point I made in this article – as Internet users we’re often “followed” without our knowledge.

      BTW, I consider Ghostery a must have extension.



  5. John Bent

    Hi Bill,

    Seriously? Pradeep Shah believes we should stop using technology if we are concerned about invasions of privacy? I’m concerned about the number of CCTV cameras following our every move. Should I stay at home? The logical conclusion of his argument is that if we wish to protect our privacy, we should close our lives down; not really a practical solution.

    I suggest that, if the “average Joe” had his head examined, it would be found to contain more grey matter than appears to reside in Pradeep Shah’s.

  6. delenn13

    Here’s a good one before I go to bed..3:30am comes fast.
    Just got this in my daily email from Cloud8 and I thought posting it here was appropriate.

    The greatest Internet security program ever created is here! Our simple, easy-to-use program will absolutely positively protect you from viruses, Trojans, worms, botnets, adware, spyware, rogues, spam, phishing, hacking, and malware. We can guarantee you that if you use our program you will never have another Internet-borne computer infection.

    Never fear those nasty old tracking cookies again! Never fear the Great Goliath Google ever again.. Never fear those nasty hackers. Stay safe! Stay secure! Stay fear free! We relieve you of all your Internet worries! Your Internet privacy will be yours again!

    Cloudeight Absolute Security — NEW! | Cloudeight Information Avenue

    I love these people! Been following them for years.

  7. delenn13

    Yes, 3:30 am..and I am going to bed really soon.

    As I said..I love these people. They are too funny.
    The text in the zip….

    “Cloudeight Absolute Security


    1. Unzip this file
    2. Follow the simple instructions below:

    Turn off your computer. Unplug your Internet cable or disable your wireless card. Turn off your modem. Turn off your wireless router. Reboot your computer.

    That’s it! You are now 100% aboslutely, positively protected from everything and anything!

    Thanks for trusting your Internet security to Cloudeight Absolute Security!

    (c) 2012 Cloudeight Absolutely Crazy Security

    Yeppers..EB and TC may be crazy..but truthful.

    • Hey Delenn13,,

      I saw that one back in the day (or, something like it) – but I downloaded the file last night just out of curiosity. It did get a smile. As you say – it’s definitely “truthful.” Sad 😦

      Not sure they can copyright this – like I said, I saw this (or similar), years ago.

      Your 3:30 AM comment must have gotten to me – I hit the bricks at 4:30 this morning. That’s a bit earlier that usual – and, I’m feeling it now. 🙂



  8. Marty

    Bill, I’m curious to know what you consider to be “insidious” about a tracking cookie and what privacy rights do you think are being violated? In what way do you think these cookies are being used against you? Also what “loss of data” was Kovacs was referring to in his statement?

    • Hi Marty,

      When a Tracking Cookie is not obvious to a casual Internet user and, when that cookie often cannot be deleted without the aid of a specialty cleaner, (a Super Cookie for example), then it fits within my definition of “insidious.”

      I suggest to you, that if, on those occasions where a Tracking Cookie is installed on a user’s machine, if full disclosure was made as to its usage, an educated user given an opportunity to reject the placement of such a cookie, might in fact, reject the cookie.

      As for my privacy rights? I have the right not to be tracked, not only on the Internet but, as I go about my daily life – by it’s very nature, tracking is a breech of my right to privacy. Most assuredly, I have the right not to be tracked without my express permission. Moreover, I have the right not to be tracked in secret. It’s this behind closed doors nature of Internet tracking, that I find most offensive.

      The solution, it seems to me, is fairly simple. If a company wants to track me (and, I fully understand the business need to generate revenue) – then, that company needs to be above board. Anything less than full disclosure, as to the intent and purpose, is unacceptable.

      It’s no accident that the privacy issue continues to rage. Nor is it an accident, that politicians have taken up the cause of Internet privacy.

      As I wrote in the article – “every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit”. But, too often, on the Internet, the bullshit baffles brains theory is in full bloom.

      The “loss of data” (a poor choice of words, I think) that Kovacs was referring to, I’ll have to assume was personal behavior – likes, dislikes, plans, objectives, buying habits, etc.

      Again, in the article, I made the observation that “It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked.” A true state of affairs, I think, But, I’m not one of those users.