Mozilla has always played a huge role in protecting and making users aware of online privacy issues. Be it being the first browser to enable do not track, fighting third party cookies or being completely open source. It is no wonder that Mozilla is always revered when it comes to online privacy even by it’s staunch opponents.
Looks like the Mountain View organisation is not content with it’s current efforts. Mozilla following up the work from it’s earlier add-on, Collusion has released Lightbeam, which allows users to track websites and third parties accessing their data.
How Lightbeam Works
Lightbeam basically visualises how the sites you visit (first parties) and sites connected to them ( third parties), like say the content providers, Social API’s, advertisements etc. Very often these sites collect information about you without your consent. This tool is not only very handy for the privacy paranoid in you, but also incredibly useful to learn how websites work if you are willing to get your hands dirty into knowing the inner working of the world wide web.
Download: Lightbeam for Firefox [833 KB]
Lightbeam Views and Usage
Lightbeam can be easily accessed by going to Tools and clicking Show Lightbeam.
Lightbeam offers three basic views : Graph, Clock and List. Graph is an amazing tool to track the behaviour of websites and third parties tracking your information. Not all the information that is being tracked is completely unexpected. Say when you visit Facebook, you do expect Facebook to keep a track of you as well as the content provider for Facebook (like akamaihd or fbcdn).
In the Graph View, the circular nodes are the first parties or the sites you visit and the triangles are the third parties associated with the sites that are tracking you. White lines indicate direct connections and shaded lines indicate cookies being stored. You can also apply filters like recently visited site, last 10 sites, daily and weekly to get your desired view.
You can zoom in and out of the graph view by scrolling with your track pad or mouse. Double clicking on a node gives out details of the server location, connected sites and the first and last access time.
Clock view lets you see the pattern of data access over a period of time. The clock neatly layers visited sites over the third parties to give you an idea of the pattern. Hovering on the nodes shows the website name.
List view as the name says just lists all the sites and the third parties that connect with your browser. Now this is perhaps the most powerful view as you can block sites totally from connecting to your browser or put any site on your watch list so that you monitor the data tracking pattern. It is a pretty handy and powerful tool to track and block unwanted third parties from tracking you on the web ( say advertisement sites).
Expect the graph view to get really messy as you keep using your browser. Use filters like recent site or last 10 sites to remove some clutter. To improve Lightbeam, we recommend you to enable data collection so that Mozilla can aggregate data from various browsing patterns and improvise the tool.
Lightbeam is a really cool addon which is a must have for privacy pundits and computer networking enthusiasts alike. We are really excited to see how this powerful tool will evolve in the future.