(One of my Montana Arts Council State of the Arts Newspaper Tech Talk Columns)
In past Tech Talk columns I have covered the ways your web browsing habits are tracked, such as when search engines record your visits and track what you search for, how the companies (and individuals) behind the websites you visit track your usage, and how advertising networks follow your browsing habits around the web. And I’ve covered how to protect yourself by being careful on how data is collected on your web usage, how to control browser cookies that track you, and how to use the private browsing features of web browsers.
But the problem with some of those methods to protect your privacy – such as disabling cookies – is that they sometimes break web site functions, and you may have to switch back into standard browsing to use some websites.
But there is a less intrusive method of reducing or stopping those tracking technologies while preserving most website functions: it’s called Ghostery, and it is a browser extension – like the ad blockers I’ve written about – and I started using it last year.
The difference with Ghostery is that out-of-the-box it specifically blocks tracking scripts – the ones that record your site activity, like visits, the ways you use the site, your IP address and more – while allowing the other scripts that provide website functions. Ghostery is not the same as private browsing, which doesn’t save history on your PC/Mac; Ghostery stops the tracking of you by the web companies on their websites.
Ghostery is developed by a company that has a serious dedication to privacy and security; they say that “Transparency is the pillar upon which Ghostery is built” and their company’s reputation is built on that.
Ghostery is a browser extension (like an ad blocker) available for all popular browsers – such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and more – at www.ghostery.com/products/ You will need to follow the standard steps to install an add-on for your browser, which means clicking on the Ghostery site for your browser and following your browser’s instructions.
Once Ghostery is installed, you’ll be asked by Ghostery to anonymously share data about the sites blocked and open an account, but neither is required. Ghostery starts to work right way in your browser toolbar. When you go to a website, you’ll see a numeral that tells the number of scripts blocked; click on the Ghostery icon in your browser, you will see the list of the trackers blocked.
You can also “trust” a site to whitelist it and block nothing; you may need to do this on your banking sites that may require all the functionality that they build into the site. Or, you may want to whitelist sites that will benefit from knowing how users interact with the site, such as people you know and businesses and organizations that you trust and respect.