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Want to See Who Is Tracking You on the Internet in Real-Time?

Want to See Who Is Tracking You on the Internet in Real-Time?

"...pull back the curtain and provide users with more information about the growing role of third parties..."

If you are concerned about increased tracking of your movements on the Internet, here's a function that could at least give you the peace of mind of knowing who is watching where you go. Mozilla Firefox has developed an add-on for its web browser that will show you in real-time the third-parties that are tracking your Internet activity.

(Related: Google's new privacy policy rolls out today despite opposition)

Mozilla describes the add-on named "Collusion" as an experimental feature that will show you "how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers." PC World has more on how the add-on works:

The browser extension creates a real-time graph of all the tracking cookies being deposited on your browser as you move around the Web.

The add-on can differentiate between behavioral tracking (cookies that record links you click on, what content you view, searches you make on a site, etc.) and other potential tracking cookies. Collusion's graph also makes it easy to see which sites are using the same behavioral tracking advertisers.

PC World notes that as of right now, the add-on -- initially developed by Mozilla engineer Atul Varma but is now supported by the Ford Foundation -- only lets you see who is tracking you, but it will someday give you the ability to turn off the cookies.

The Daily Mail points out that Google, for example, with its new privacy policy will have an increased capability to target ads more specifically to users as it will be tracking them across its various products and services. According to the Daily Mail, Collusion was introduced at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference this week by CEO Gary Kovacs. Here's some of what Kovacs had to say about the add-on:

"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," said Kovacs.

On a larger scale, according to the Collusion website, users will be able to share the information about their tracking -- if they so choose -- to build a database about web tracking:

We’ll combine all that information and make it available to help researchers, journalists, and others analyze and explain how data is tracked on the web.

If you don't choose to share this data with Mozilla, PC World says that it lives locally on your computer.

Check out this visual representation of how Collusion works:

If you're interested in getting this add-on for your Mozilla Firefox browser, visit this site. PC World has some advice on how to use the add-on. It states that while using the Internet as usual, after installing the add-on, all you have to do is click on the Collusion icon to see the graph of tracking it has been creating for you. What PC World describes as "glowing circles" are the sites you've visited during your session and the lines are attached to a cookie. PC World explains the difference between the red and gray circles you may see:

Red circles are behavioral tracking cookies, and gray circles represent non-behavorial tracking cookies. But, Mozilla says, those gray sites may still be tracking you across the Web. In my tests, the gray circles tended to be cookies from social networking sites such as Facebook, MSN, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

If you've visited several sites and the graph is cluttered, PC World recommends hovering over a site you've visited on the graph to see more clearly the cookies that were connected with that site.

See a demo of how Collusion works here.

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