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How to Tell Who’s Tracking You Online

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Earlier today Mozilla introduced Collusion, an add-on for the Firefox browser that shows you how companies are tracking you as you surf the Web. A cool visual demonstration of the software illustrates all the links that form as you crisscross just a few popular sites online, including IMDB, the New York Times and the Huffington Post. The software shows the connections between sites you visit and third-party tracking and advertising networks such as Doubleclick and Scorecard Research. It makes plain the invisible web that has been woven through the Web.

The software was created as a protoype by Atul Varma, who explained in a blog post that he “didn’t know a lot about tracking myself, so I whipped up a Firefox add-on called Collusion to help me visualize it better,” he wrote. “The results were a little unsettling.”

Collusion will help you understand how you’re being tracked online, but it won’t stop it from happening. For that, you can disable “third-party” cookies on your browser and install other add-ons such as TrackerBlock. A number of internet giants have also announced support for a “do not track” button, though that option may not become available until the end of the year.


About the Author: Michael Moyer is the editor in charge of space and physics coverage at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @mmoyr.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. jtdwyer 7:19 pm 02/28/2012

    How about making ‘do not track’ the default, and providing a ‘Track Me’ button for any so inclined?

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  2. 2. Richieo 4:36 am 02/29/2012

    How about if the whole concept of “virtual stalking” is made illegal? not a hope until the day after hell freezes over, they are all doing it… Mainly to sell you something you looked at or bought, like you are going to buy more of the same…

    Many big brothers are watching your every click, hoping to profit from it…

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  3. 3. RHoltslander 11:51 am 02/29/2012

    jtdwyer makes a good point but just in so many things these days the answer unfortunately is, “Yeah but that would play havoc with our business model”.

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  4. 4. voice 5:47 pm 02/29/2012

    Except for the stalkers who get personal information and use it to threaten you, I think it could be a good thing. The tracking of people’s research on topics can lead to an increase in the overall awareness on the topics and highlight what people are interested so that money and research are directed to those areas. Since this tracking started it has been like ‘make a wish’ for me with the stuff I research showing up in scientific articles and news media.

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  5. 5. theventorr 7:32 am 03/1/2012

    For everybody out ther ya’ know Time magazine had a article last year sometime & since i read that I use (DuckDuckGo) as my homepage always… check-it out i love duckduckgo they do not track. That is the way to go rather then all this hob-nob-glob about other sites, mozilla, google, whoever!!!

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  6. 6. OccasionallyTogether 12:52 pm 03/1/2012

    Reading this page you are being tracked by: Chartbeat!

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  7. 7. wendalls 8:58 pm 03/1/2012

    To be honest I don’t really care if I’m being tracked for advertising impressions or what not. Unsure what negative effect it actually has on my life. (please enlighten me should you know) In any case whether they’re targeted or not there will still be ads in the media spaces websites put up for sale, to make money, so they’re owners can make a living and stay online.

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