One thing that I find strange about Ghostery is that it’s made by an advertising company called Evidon. They claim that it’s opt-in only for aggregating advertiser tracking cookies and scripts but not sure about that since they are into internet marketing.
We see and hear this concern a lot, especially right after Evidon acquired Ghostery, back when Evidon was called “The Better Advertising Project.” The feedback ranges from inquisitive concern like jablone’s to outright accusations that we’re secretly tracking our brains out by fooling people into thinking we have a privacy product.
The truth is, as recently captured in a VentureBeat headline, that we are “a Web tracking blocker that actually helps the ad industry“. And as the article details, we do this while offering the most comprehensive user privacy extension available. We’re proud of how we make this work, and since we like to practice what we preach about transparency, we thought we’d run down that business model again.
Here’s the short version:
- Ghostery is totally free, and only collects data if you opt-in.
- All the data we collect when you opt-in is totally anonymous.
- We provide data to the advertising industry about their own tools, because like lots of businesses, they value opportunities to measure their own performance.
- (We also provide data to university students, privacy researchers, journalists, and the Better Business Bureau so they can help regulate tracking.)
[Y]ou could ask for money from your users. I would gladly pay something for the service.
We also (thankfully) hear this a lot. People appreciate what we do, and some of them even offer to pay for our otherwise free tool. We don’t want to require users to pay for privacy, however, so we ask for donations in the form of anonymous data. When you opt-in to Ghostrank, you help support Ghostery. We get that this might not be comfortable for everyone – web tracking in any form can understandably make people nervous – and so we don’t require this data collection in any way. Ghostery operates exactly the same, with all the same functionality and features, whether you choose to help us by providing data or not.
So, what do we call a service that helps side A avoid side B while helping side B pursue side A?
Strictly speaking, we don’t help the industry pursue its audience, because we don’t share any data about the audience. None of what we collect can ever be used to target an ad or even to identify a Ghostery user. In fact, this data is pretty obvious stuff:
- the tracking element that was encountered,
- the page it was encountered on,
- whether or not you blocked the element,
- the browser you’re using,
- whether or not the element was visible when the page loaded,
- how long the tracking element took to load,
- and version of Ghostery you’re using.
So the intelligence is about the tracking elements that were encountered, not the user that encountered those elements. We use a combination of IP address and browser to determine unique panel members, but we make an encrypted hash of that combination and store it securely, making it impossible to ever trace this activity back to a given user. That’s why we say the data is completely anonymous – we can’t even find you to say “Thank you”.
(So if you ARE a Ghostrank panel member – thanks! You rule.)
So, while attempting to maintain privacy, users are actually helping this company’s efforts to enable more companies to become increasingly savvy and invasive?
Evidon doesn’t work to allow advertisers to be more invasive. In fact, Evidon is in the business of making online advertising more transparent and more easily controlled. As a privacy technology company, Evidon helps advertisers deliver the AdChoices icon, which gives web users more information about the ads they see and the opportunity to opt-out of data collection and use for advertising. Evidon’s position as a trusted partner for compliance with the advertising industry’s regulatory standards makes it a naturally trusted partner for industry intelligence, which is why we’re able to sell Ghostrank data. We package that data with other information collected from our lab scanners and, after analysis from our privacy team, we have something the advertising industry is willing to buy.
So by providing anonymous data to us while using our tracker blocking tool, you help us to continue to develop that tool by having it paid for by the tracking companies. Again, we’re pretty proud of how we’ve made a business of user privacy this way. We don’t have to ask you to spend your money for an app or subscription service. We don’t have to rely on charitable grants from companies, foundations, or government agencies that may come with undesirable conditions. We believe it’s the best way to continue to provide a first-class tool for user privacy while working toward a more transparent and controllable web by default.
We sincerely thank all of our Ghostery users, especially those who are a part of our Ghostrank panel. You’re helping us to do something we think is important, something that really could change the web as we know it, and something we really love to do.
Happy Browsing (whoever you are),
Ghostery’s Senior Product Manager