If Your Privacy Tool Doesn’t Break the Web, It’s Not Trying Hard Enough

September 25, 2012

First time users of Ghostery often experience moments of shock and surprise when they visit sites with a substantial number of third-party trackers. The Purple Box pops up with a long list of companies that aren’t familiar, and the concept of the invisible web is immediately clear to the person that’s just been given a peek behind the scenes.  But often, those names are familiar. Some common tracking technologies provide visible, usable tools in exchange for tracking. Social buttons, comment forms and video players are all visible tools with invisible tracking.

Ghostery thinks of these things as trackers, even if they’re also there for some other purpose. Most of these trackers can be found in the widgets category in our blocking options menu. If you block them,  your web experience may seem “broken”. It’s easy, when comparing privacy tools, to think of a seamless browsing experience as a plus, and we sometimes hear that people prefer their web experience with other tools because it seems less interrupted.


Broken Video Player on NYTimes.com

Ghostery blocking Brightcove, and therefore breaking the video player, on NYTimes.com

But that line of thinking can be dangerous. Your web browsing experience is only interrupted if you’re blocking trackers. There are several ways we try to limit the difficulties blocking might cause. We often employ “surrogate” scripts in cases where the browser might wait for a blocked script to respond. We’ve introduced click-to-play features in Ghostery for Firefox, which show you when a script that might otherwise be usable has been removed from the page. And you always have the option to change your blocking settings if you’d rather have things go smoothly (look for a more detailed post about what to do when the web doesn’t work like you’d expect soon). But what we won’t do is decide for you that you’d rather make a comment than be protected from tracking, or that you’d rather see a video than to keep your cookies clean.

Broken Social Tools on avclub.com

Ghostery for Firefox blocking, and replacing, social tools and comment forms on the Onion's avclub.com

There’s nothing wrong with deciding you’d like to block less to browse smoothly, but it’s important to understand the trade-off in those situations. And if a privacy tool is blocking everything it can, and your browsing experience isn’t interrupted at all, then it is placing a higher value on function than on privacy – without asking you first. Ghostery doesn’t make decisions for you – so if you block everything, we’re going to block everything. That might mean some web pages doesn’t work the way you’d expect – but we feel that if blocking doesn’t break things, it’s not trying hard enough.


6 Responses to If Your Privacy Tool Doesn’t Break the Web, It’s Not Trying Hard Enough

  1. Susan Mathews on November 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Hi there,
    I use Ghostery all the time and I think you guys are wonderful for creating it. I always check to see what’s new when that message pops up. My question for you is since getting this message today about the new upgrades available, and having read all the info about it, I am now totally confused. I have no idea which version to install. I am running Windows 7 and usually use Google Chrome but sometimes I have to use Internet Explorer as some of the sites I need to log into have not yet,technically caught up with Chrome yet. I would be grateful if you could tell me which version I should install. Keep up the good work!!
    Kind Regards
    Susan Mathews

    • Pete on November 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks for using Ghostery!

      We suggest using the most current version of Ghostery whenever possible as it will the most feature current as well as any bugs that may have been introduced in previous versions most likely will be resolved with the new builds. The most current version of Ghostery for Chrome is 4.1.0. That would be the one to install.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Ghostery: bescherm je privacy online | on December 24, 2012 at 7:50 am

    [...] Wel opgelet. Soms kan Ghostery te aggressief zijn en verstoort het functionaliteit van enkele websites. Zo bleek onlangs dat de plug-in het moeilijk maakte om nieuwe Twitter-berichten te posten, een probleem dat heel vlug werd verholpen. Af en toe een haperende website tegenkomen, is echter een kleine prijs die de gebruiker moet betalen voor het verzekeren van zijn online privacy. In de woorden van de Ghostery ontwikkelaars: “als je privacy-tool het web niet breekt, dan is het niet hard genoeg aan het proberen.” [...]

  3. Dave on December 27, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I found that Ghostery broke Hotmail Live. I normally use my Hotmail UK and Live accounts with POP to Thunderbird, so it doesn’t affect me too much but I have to go to the webpage every now and again to check the junk folder in case something’s slipped through, and found that most things wouldn’t click! Not sure whether it also coincided with a Firefox update. Couldn’t do a lot, like switching accounts or opening folders. Nothing would happen, despite the cursor changing to the usual finger when hovered. Found it was Ghostery by a process of elimination, edited Ghostery for that page and everything now works again.

  4. http://builtwith.com/americanbanker.com on January 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

  5. Andrew on April 14, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    I love when Ghostery breaks websites. It’s been breaking a ton of them lately too, which makes me wonder how on earth people code websites so poorly and so focused on getting meaningless data off you that they’re just shoving every tracking library on earth into the website and forgetting to make the actual thing work. Sorry, but if blocking your 12 tracking beacons breaks your website, then Ghostery did it’s job, you just suck at your’s!

    I COULD click the ‘unblock on this website’ button, but it’s easier to just run another search and find what information I’m looking for elsewhere. We must’ve misunderstood eachother, I’m with the 99% of the internet who are on here to access information and I’d appreciate if you didn’t vomit 900MB of busted half-rouge Javascript tracking libraries at my machine when I accidentally click on your cloaked link during my Google search. Spend less time trying to track random uninterested parties and track down a business plan that actually attracts customers.

    And in the case of the new york times, stop making up stories, being shown evidence of such lies and then lying about it some more. Brightcove may have broken their website, but I’m sure it was they who wished Ghostery could have blocked the almighty Elon Musk with his mound of tracking records incriminating their integrity down to “Troll” status.

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