Mozilla’s Collusion plug-in aims to expose online tracking

Mozilla Collusion

Speaking at the TED conference yesterday, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs demonstrated Collusion, a new add-on for Firefox that aims to reveal the complex web of connections used by Web sites, advertisers, behavioral marketers, and other third parties to track users across the Web. Instead of users relying on a flat list of cookies and a limited set of privacy-related checkboxes, users will be able to see how particular sites are tracking them — and how some third parties can watch users move from site to site, accumulating information on their actions the whole way. And Collusion is now getting some high-profile help: the philanthropic Ford Foundation has ponied up a $300,000 grant to support Collusion’s development.

“Few people realize the extent to which the tracking of our online activities is occurring, and who is doing it,” Kovacs wrote in a blog post. “At best, it would make most uncomfortable. And at it’s worst, it makes many of us outraged, particularly those of us who are parents.”

At a basic level, Collusion is a visualization tool that enables users to see the relationships between sites the visit and the advertising, marketing, and analytic services that, in turn, may be used by those sites. For instance, Collusion may show that a user visiting a popular Web site also picks up cookies for third parties engages in behavioral tracking. When the user visits another site, they may discover that new site also refers to some of the same third parties, giving those companies a birds-eye view of online activity. Collusion currently taps into information from to explicitly identify sites that engage in behavioral tracking — Collusion’s developer admits to “sort of using without their permission.” Collusion is also providing access to TrackerBlock for Firefox and Internet Explorer to help users block specific third-party trackers; the full version of Collusion will enable users to opt in to anonymously sharing data they gather about Web trackers to help analyze how online tracking is taking place.

Mozilla is the first to acknowledge that “not all tracking is bad.” However, in an age when privacy gaffes and security flaws are seemingly everyday news items, increasing users’ awareness of how and when they’re being tracked can’t help but be useful — and lead to more-informed discussion.

Firefox users can download a preliminary version of the Collusion plug-in for free.

Product Review

Don't bother with any other 2-in-1. The Surface Pro 6 is still the best

The Surface Pro been updated to its sixth generation, now coming dressed in black and packing a quad-core processor. Outside of that, you’ll have to dig a little deeper to see where Microsoft has made some truly noteworthy improvements.
Smart Home

Facebook’s new Portal device can collect your data to target your ads

Facebook confirmed that its new Portal smart displays, designed to enable Messenger-enabled video calls, technically have the capability to gather data on users via the camera and mic onboard.

Your ‘Do Not Track’ tool might be helping websites track you, study says

New research from the "Do Not Track" features embedded in popular browsers are being ignored, opening up the possibility of consumers having their information targeted by specific ads based on their web histories and cookies. 

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.
Smart Home

Patent shows Alexa may soon detect when you’re sick and suggest remedies

Amazon has patented a new feature that would allow Alexa to detect the signs of illness, such as a cough or a sore throat, and suggest solutions to help. The feature would also enable Alexa to offer to buy medicine for the user.

How does Microsoft’s newest Surface stack up against the Apple iPad Pro?

In an era where everyone is taking a bite at Apple’s products, we’ve stacked up the 12.9-inch iPad Pro against the latest Surface Pro 6. Check out this comparison guide to see which one gives you more bang for your buck.

Leaked benchmarks suggest rumored AMD GPU could be king of midrange graphics

AMD's next GPU may not be Navi-based after all. Rumors continue to build about an RX 590 which has now shown up on 3DMark's benchmark database, delivering results that easily outstrip stock clocked GTX 1060s.
Emerging Tech

Curious how A.I. 'brains' work? Here's a super-simple breakdown of deep learning

What is deep learning? A branch of machine learning, this field deals with the creation of neural networks that are modeled after the brain and adept at dealing with large amounts of human-oriented data, like writing and voice commands.

Qualcomm’s ‘Snapdragon 1000’ could bring octa-cores to Windows laptops

The rumored Qualcomm Snapdragon 1000 CPU may bring the octa-core design of mobiles and tablets to Windows laptops, offering four powerful cores for high performance, and four low-power cores for efficiency.

Is the new Surface Pro 6 worth the extra money or is the Surface Go good enough?

Each of Microsoft’s Surface devices are great, but with the recent addition of the Surface Pro 6, you might be wondering how it stacks up against the Surface Go. In this comparison piece, we’ve put the two devices up against each other…

Is the Surface Pro 6 a sidestep, or does it blow away its predecessor?

How good is the new Surface Pro, and is it worth an upgrade? The best way to find out is to pit the Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Pro 5 in a head to head that tests them both on performance, design, and portability.

These gloves will make virtual reality feel even more immersive

Scientists from EPFL and ETH Zurich have come up with a thin and light VR glove which makes it so that a touch of an object in the virtual world equates to the physical touch you would expect in real life.

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Emerging Tech

MIT is building a new $1 billion college dedicated to all things A.I.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new $1 billion college of computing designed to offer the best possible education to future machine learning A.I. experts.