User tracking has been one of the hottest privacy topics over the past years. There have been light efforts to reduce user tracking, for instance by Mozilla with their Do Not Track headers. Many users on the other hand are not aware of the underlying issues, mostly because the tracking is done in the background and not visual to the user.
The Firefox add-on Collusion is an attempt to visualize how websites and services are connected with each other. It is not all about advertising and user tracking though, it is about all connections that websites have with each other.
How does it work? The extension starts collecting connection information directly after it has been installed in the web browser. This is an automatic process that requires no user interaction from that point forward.
The extension adds an icon to the Firefox status bar. When you click on it, it launches the visualization screen in a new tab in the browser. Even with the page open it continues to update the connections in realtime whenever new web pages are opened.
Each dot represents a domain, connected with lines. These lines visualize the connections between sites. Colors are used to distinct between standard domains and domains that track users who visit those domains. Tracking domains are shown in red in the visualization.
Collusion displays information about individual domains on the same page. These information are displayed in the upper right corner of the screen. This includes information about the domain or tracking service, and the websites that it is connected to.
The visualization grows tremendously in size over time, and one of the criticisms that I have is that it is not possible to zoom in or out of the visualization or enter a domain name to display its connections in the list.
Update: It is possible to use the browser's zoom in and zoom out feature to zoom.
Collusion is not available at the Mozilla add-on repository. The extension is only available at the developer website. Cautious users may want to look at the source code first before they compile the add-on or install the compiled version directly.
Update 2: Collusion has been renamed to Lightbeam. It is now officially available on the Mozilla Add-ons repository.Advertisement
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.