The Most Frequently Asked Question

June 18, 2013
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Whenever we tell someone new about Ghostery, the odds-on favorite for the the first question they ask is: “so how do you guys make money?”  Web users have learned to be skeptical when it comes to an allegedly free product.

We think that being skeptical is smart, and Ghostery is made for exactly the type of user who would ask this question with one raised eyebrow and one foot out of the door.

The data donation feature in Ghostery is called “GhostRank,” which is opt-in and anonymous. We know how important it is for us to make clear exactly how what data is shared and how we make use of GhostRank data.

  • Ghostery is free to use. It’s supported only by optional donations of anonymous data from users who have opted into GhostRank.

  • Ghostery never shares any data about our users with advertising companies or anybody else. GhostRank data does not include any identifiable information about our users – period.

  • Ghostery is owned by Evidon, a for-profit company. Evidon sells GhostRank data to businesses to help them market to consumers more transparently, better manage their web properties, and comply with privacy standards around the world.

Now that we have that out there, here’s more detail on those points above:

Ghostery is free to use.

We don’t collect any data whatsoever unless you specifically check a box in Ghostery’s options saying it’s okay. Evidon and Ghostery use data on trackers, not people. If you don’t opt in, the product isn’t affected in any way. We have no plans or intentions to make any of Ghostery’s features dependent on GhostRank participation.

Ghostery does not share any data about our users.

GhostRank data does not include things like “John Doe is a Midwestern car enthusiast.” It includes things like “Ad Network X’s tracking code was encountered 50 times on this car site.”  We hash IP addresses in our logs (we only keep those scrambled strings to help us do a basic user count), and we strip out query strings in the urls we collect in an effort to make sure there isn’t any user-specific information lurking there, either. Put simply, none of us could use GhostRank data to identify a user out on the web even if we were inclined to do so.

Ghostery is owned by Evidon, a for-profit company.

GhostRank data helps us to create solutions that help businesses. It enables site owners to detect all of the tracking technologies on their sites and maintain control of their data, and provides competitive intelligence for companies across the web.

Evidon and Ghostery have transparency at the core of our collective business model – it’s not a “main goal” or a “central value,” but the actual core of our company. All of our products increase visibility into the online advertising world, and those products are designed to meet the most rigorous standards of operational transparency

That’s important to note, because this transparency-by-design approach means healthy skeptics don’t have to simply trust that the things I’ve asserted in this post are true.  First, read our privacy policy, terms of use, and FAQ.  You’ll find that everything I’ve spelled out here is echoed there – we worked very hard to make sure we gave ourselves the right legal protections without leaving room in those documents for us to compromise. Secondly, Ghostery’s code is not at all obscure – anyone can unpack our extension and look directly at what the javascript is built to do. You can also use a header request inspector to view all the requests a page makes, including the l.ghostery.com requests we send (these inspectors are now built into many browsers or available as extensions themselves).

Skepticism is healthy, and beyond that, all of us at Ghostery applaud that approach.  But we hope that users don’t let skepticism turn into fear, uncertainty, and doubt about a product that can help you, in a safe and uncompromising way, be a better skeptic.  We hope you’ll opt into our data donation to help support the product, but we understand that requires a level of trust about what we do with the data.  To that end, if you have any questions, please find us on our support forums, Twitter, Facebook, and/or via email. You can also email me personally at andy@ghostery.com.

APPENDIX: GhostRank Logging Breakdown

Several users have asked for specific information about what we collect. What follows is a breakdown of a typical GhostRank log URL gathered from my own browser this morning while I was reading an extremely interesting article about Khloe Kardashian’s workout habits. Remember, this only matters if you’ve opted-in. If you haven’t enabled GhostRank, you can skip this, because we collect nothing.

Here’s the raw GhostRank url:

https://l.ghostery.com/api/census?bid=951&apid=1551&d=www.huffingtonpost.com%2F2013%2F06%2F17%2Fkhloe-kardashian-workout-routine_n_3455920.html&src=http%3A%2F%2Fthumbs.taboola.com%2Fthumbnails%2F1002719%2F1318684893084223663%2Fhttp%253A%252F%252Fcdn.taboolasyndication.com%252Flibtrc%252Fstatic%252Fthumbnails%252F6ae0bf04c6267a655400daaaf6fb47e6.jpg&bl=false&blm=0&bs=false&bv=208&l=1898&af=false&v=2.9.5&cv=2&ua=firefox&rnd=8558287

And here’s a breakdown of the elements included (with a bit of cleaned up encoding for the sake of readability):

  • https://l.ghostery.com/api/census?
    • this is simply the address of the GhostRank logging api
  • bid=951
    • “bug id” –  the tracking company id (the naming convention is leftover from when we referred to trackers as “web bugs”). In this case, the tracking company is #951, a video player called “Taboola”)
  • apid=1551
    • “app pattern id” –  the id for the actual Taboola element we discovered (many companies have more than one type of technology they deploy, and we make the distinction whenever possible).
  • d=www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/khloe-kardashian-workout-routine_n_3455920.html
    • “domain” – the URL for the page I was visited, the aforementioned heady reading about Khole’s workout.
  • src=http://thumbs.taboola.com/thumbnails/1002719/1318684893084223663
    • “source” – the url source for the element we discovered. In this case, it resolves to a thumbnail image of a heavily tattooed person.
  • bl=false
    • “blocking” – an indication of whether or not I blocked the tracking element. During this exercise this morning, I was not blocking.
  • blm=0
    • “blocking mode” – an indication of Ghostery’s blocking settings, to give us a better idea of what the user was trying to do (and to help us make sure Ghostery is blocking correctly)
  • bs=false
    • “bug selected” –  a flag to tell us if the tracking element was selected for blocking. A combined look a this and the other two blocking indicators can show us how frequently users are making blocking exceptions.
  • bv=208
    • “bug version” –  the version of our library of tracking elements. We’re adding to this all the time, and it helps us to be able to compare some data only to other data collected in the same version of the library.
  • l=1898
    • “latency” – the time (in milliseconds) it took the detected element to load in the page (if it wasn’t blocked).
  • af=false
    • “above fold” – an indication of whether the element was visible when the page loaded, or if the user had to scroll to see it.
  • v=2.9.5
    • “version” – Ghostery’s version number.
  • cv=2
    • “cache version” – we recently made some changes to how frequently Ghostery counts similar trackers, and this number indicates which version of that behavior was at work when the data was collected.
  • ua=firefox
    • “user agent” – the browser in which Ghostery is working. I was using Firefox.
  • rnd=8558287
    • “random” – a random number to help us properly collect unique GhostRank records.

And that’s all. Nothing about me in there at all, really – and there would be no way for anybody at Ghostery or Evidon to know this particular GhostRank report belonged to me, except now I’ve been very explicit about my interest in Khloe Kardashian’s workout on our blog, which will probably make its way around the office pretty quickly.

There’s also a separate report for a complete web page on which trackers are present. It’s pretty similar:

http://l.ghostery.com/api/page?d=www.avc.com&l=126332&s=2&ua=firefox

“d” is domain, “l” is latency in milliseconds, and “ua” is the browser, just like above. “s” stands for “spots”, which counts the number of ad spots on the page.

Again, if this raises any questions at all, please find us on our support forumsTwitterFacebook, and/or via email. You can also email me personally at andy@ghostery.com.

 

10 Responses to The Most Frequently Asked Question

  1. Penny on January 2, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    This looks like a great program. Thanks for all the additional information for us paranoics.

    My only other comment is that someone should fix the two typos in this subparagraph:

    “domain” – the URL for the page I was visited, the aforementioned heady reading about Khole’s workout.

  2. dave g on January 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    I believe that where ghostry finds these malware elements on pages of amy given domain tjen the user should have an option not just to clean elements but also block prevent that whole domain’s web pages from being able to be opened until such time the user so wishes so I.e. I opened a page on example.com when ghostry suddenly alerts me to hidden objectd within that page I then have an option to prevent my device from being able to open up all pages /links to that domain SHOUL HAVE THE OPTION because if website owners saw dramtic reduction in their internet traffic it may kick their arse to be more secure in the first place

  3. Olexa on January 18, 2014 at 4:52 am

    Thanks ! ! !

  4. Mike on January 23, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Love the breakdown of the URL. Very informative, and thoughtful of you to break down that jargon for us level 1 geeks.

  5. George Green on March 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Just found this. I’m 75 years old . Know very little about this subject . Maybe this will save my sanity . Will give it a try . Thanks , GG

    • Lay Pastor Lisa J. on April 14, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      Bless your sweet heart! You are 75 years young & well into modern technology. My mom is 77 & she has troubles with various (too many) remote controls, and my 82-yr-old mother-in-law would run screaming from the room if I whipped out 1 of my laptops! ha ha

      Glad to see you’re not letting the youngsters pass you by. Generally speaking, “AGE BEGETS WISDOM” & GOD knows we need more folks like you in the online spotlight!!

      Stay determined & welcome to the “trying 2 keep our sanity online” club!

      God Bless You, GG..
      Love In Christ
      Lisa Juarez

  6. bob on April 6, 2014 at 1:27 am

    It is driving me nuts, how do I remove it

    • Pete on April 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks for trying Ghostery Bob. You can remove it from your browsers extension menu. If you can’t find it.. let me know which browser you are using and I’ll give you more specific instruction.. pete@ghostery.com

    • Lay Pastor Lisa J. on April 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      Mr. Bob,
      I agree with Pete @ Ghostery.com about your being able to remove it quite simply using your browsers extension menu. However, I’d like to add that the problem is probably “with” the browser itself & how it may have loaded onto your browser, and/or was setup. This Ghostery extension is very useful & if it’s setup properly it can truly be a really great & extremely useful tool.

      You’d be amazed at how they (I call them “net-thug$”)track you & not only get in, but “stay in” your business online. That’s where extension like Ghostery can stop em dead in their(tracking)tracks. But not set properly and/or clashing with your browser would make Ghostery, or many other extensions horribly annoying. I know, I been there many times with countless extensions.

      I’ve used Ghostery before with all my browsers & I was shocked at how I was being mercilessly tracked & how they (99% of every site I visited) used me like they owned me. I was (and still am) terribly offended by sites treating my internet usage like I owed them the privilege of watching my every move, recording every stroke of a key from my keyboard, and then selling my information to every annoying ad agency, websites, relentless sellers, etc. Hence my calling them “Net-Thugs”………….

      But, I too had some trouble at 1st with Ghostery until I learned what each problem was & what was causing it by merely typing in questions on google search, or any search engine really. Once, using google search page, I just typed in “I’m having trouble with Ghostery on my latest # Firefox browser!” There were several people(responses)with the same exact problems & even ones I ran into later on with a different browser. I was able to take/utilize their responses & I fixed my browsers to accommodate Ghostery properly & was very pleased.

      I just thought I’d let you know that in case you may wanna try it. I’m not trying to sell anyone on Ghostery or any thing for that matter. I am just a lover of freedom & I hate it when my (or anyone’s) rights & privacy is under attack. What we all do, or do not do…. in the privacy of our own homes…. is our business not the whole world’s business. I constantly have to remind myself that www stands for “world-wide web” and thus, the whole entire world is watching us online.

      Our constitution has been shredded so badly until it’s unrecognizable. I at least wanna keep those money crazed net-thugs out of my business. I hope you’ll reconsider protecting your privacy even if you have to use another source other than Ghostery. Thanks for listening & I apologize for taking up any of your valuable time.

      GOD Bless..
      Lisa J.

  7. Sebine on April 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Ya know, I’m 25 years old.. and most of the shit on this page, the explanations just fly over my head

    But I do know this:

    I don’t like being tracked online.
    I don’t like seeing those creepy-as-fuck ‘targeted’ ads
    and I don’t like companies thinking that invading my privacy is alright.

    Ghostery is a damned godsend.

    My only question is what other privacy extentions do y’all recommend?
    AdBlock Plus is a given..

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