Who is sitting in the Glass House? Its You!

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 2, 2015
Updated • May 22, 2018

Online privacy is not an easy concept to explain to the majority of Internet users due to its abstract often near-invisible nature.

While it is clear to anyone that leaving window blinds up may provide third-parties with a view of what is going on in the room, explaining that the same thing may happen online as well is complicated due to the abstract nature of it.

Browsers provide data that may help users find out about tracking and privacy in general, but the information is not revealed directly in the UI most of the time but only when special features, for instance a browser's Developer Mode, are used to find out more about connections or cookies set by a site.

Mozilla's Glass House experiment in Hamburg, Germany was an attempt to link privacy online with those at home.

The organization invited unsuspecting travelers from around the world to spend a night in a specially prepared apartment. Once the couples settled in and used the publicly displayed WiFi password to  connect their devices to the Internet, all walls of the apartment were removed.

mozilla glass house

People walking by would see exactly what was going on inside, and the travelers realized suddenly that their "private" apartment was not private at all.

The idea was to raise awareness about online privacy, or a lack thereof, and to educate the general public.

The video below shows what happened (Mozilla notes that it brought in some actors "for dramatic effect", but that the reactions were genuine).

The travelers were interviewed afterwards and the second video highlights some of their answers to questions Mozilla asked.

It should come at no surprise that Mozilla wants you to use Firefox to protect your online privacy. Firefox is without the shadow of a doubt the browser that gives users the most control over privacy and security related settings and options.

Mozilla introduced Tracking Protection to the browser's private browsing mode recently which blocks trackers and other invasive connections while in private browsing mode.

Now You: What's your opinion on the experiment?

Who is sitting in the Glass House? Its You!
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Who is sitting in the Glass House? Its You!
Mozilla conducted an experiment recently in which it tried to link privacy online with those at home to raise awareness for online privacy.

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  1. guest earthling said on December 6, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Whether you are going to reply or not to reply is certainly your right.

    Nevertheless, I have to point out a few things.

    You say that “Galileo’s theories were once considered “false and pseudoscientific.” People observed the sun come up in the east and go down in the west and they knew that the sun circled the earth.”

    You are correct that in medieval Europe the predominant view was that the Sun orbits the Earth, i.e. geocentrism, proposed by Ptolemy. And it was the dominant view, at least in Europe, for roughly 1,500 years. But the astronomical model of Universe, where the Earth orbits the Sun (heliocentrism) was proposed and formulated by Copernicus. He was dead already when Galio Galilei was born. A prominent scientist, a champion of heliocentrism, but not the author of heliocentrism.

    I guess I should have elaborated a little bit more on why Social Darwinism is pseudoscientific. It is not my personal subjective viewpoint, it is not a whim of some number of people. You can always read about it a little bit more. I’ll just point out that the most notorious apologets, proponents, adopters, followers (call them what you want) were nazis. It is a favorite topic of racists, supremacits, nationalists of various flavor. It is groundless from scientific point of view.
    So your implication that it may have some scientific basis is incorrect, and as a validation of your argument you refer to the history of introduction of heliocentrism. That comparison is incorrect either.

    But your notion that ideas should not be dismissed, with the condition of not taking into account false and pseudoscientific ideas, that do no less than hamper scientific research and mislead people, is certainly valid.

    Now about my reference to the possession of conscience or intelligence by Homo sapiens and your intrepretation of the notion. Based on your interpretaion, I may say that you misunderstood the point. But I do not call it your fault as I now think I shoul have elaborated a little bit more in order to have prevented any misinterpetation or misattribution.
    You recalled actors on the Internet that I had mentioned in my earlier post and compared them to predators while the rest of netizens to preys. I pointed out why that comparison is incorrect by stating that animals are driven by instincts and they, let’s call it, the result of evolution (though it doesn’t mean that my usage of word result implies any kind of end of process), while actors on the Internet are humans and foundations of human society in terms of sociology and politics can not be explained by biological concepts of evolution.

  2. Earl said on December 5, 2015 at 12:50 am

    The analogy would be more accurate if all of that glass had curtains… on the outside.

    1. Stephen in Austin said on December 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Earl, that’s really great, a great vision into the metaphor Mozilla put up.

  3. A different Martin said on December 4, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    A long time ago there was a region occupied by several rival villages. The villagers were poor but proud. They lived in grass huts and the most valuable thing in all the land was a throne made of solid gold. By tradition, the leader of whichever village had possession of the throne was overlord of all the villages, who had to do obeisance and pay tribute to the ruling village. Naturally, there were frequent raids, with one village taking the throne from the other in their fight for supremacy.

    But it happened that one village leader realized he needed to take security seriously. He posted a large contingent of spear-wielding guards around his hut 24 hours a day. The raids ceased and his village remained the ruling village for many, many years.

    Another village finally got fed up with doing obeisance and paying tribute, so they hatched a plan. They delivered a huge consignment of palm wine to the ruling village on the region’s annual feast day. Sure enough, by midnight almost everyone in the ruling village but the very young and the very elderly was passed out from drink.

    Shortly after midnight, a young child came running into the leader’s hut shouting that a raiding party was on the way. She roused the village leader, who in turn tried to rouse the drunk guards, to no avail. In desperation, he told the child to gather as many sober children and old people as possible and have them hoist the golden throne up into his hut’s attic.

    It worked. When the raiding party arrived, the throne was gone. The village leader forced himself to cry crocodile tears and told them that another village had gotten there first. Suddenly, there was a huge cracking sound and the throne came crashing down through the ceiling. It crushed the village leader, and the triumphant raiding party took off with it.

    So, what’s the moral of the story, you ask? People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

    [For non-native-English speakers, the original maxim is, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” And to Martin, my apologies. I saw “glass house” and couldn’t resist.]

  4. guest earthling said on December 4, 2015 at 11:56 am


    To deal with a problem one must first identify the problem, including symptoms that reveal the existence of the problem, then identify causes for the problem. The hardest thing is not to mistake symptoms with causes or vice versa.

    If we start discussing a complex issue of “the present and future of the Internet as a virtual and boundless phenomenon and how it is going to transform and shape humanity” or, on the contrary, “how real world affects the development of the Internet” (at least two essays) we are going to fall into a philosophical discussion. I do not mind discussions. :)

    1. jern said on December 4, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      @guest earthling

      I think we are too early in the history of the internet to talk philosophy. If you consider the groups you mentioned earlier (APT-s, hate groups, stalkers, etc.) today’s internet is more like the African veldt of 10,000 years ago. On one side you had animals that survived by eating other animals. On the other side you had the animals that didn’t want to be eaten.

      Today we have people on one side who eat other people’s privacy for lunch. On the other side we have the people who don’t want their privacy digested. We are still at a point where we just need to survive the situation. Pick a side and learn to run really fast.

      1. jern said on December 5, 2015 at 7:36 pm

        @guest earthling

        I’ll just point out two things and then I have no more to say.

        Galileo’s theories were once considered “false and pseudoscientific.” People observed the sun come up in the east and go down in the west and they knew that the sun circled the earth. Be careful about dismissing ideas.

        You opine, “They are Homo Sapiens, they have conscience and intelligence.”
        sociopath: a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

        If you truly believe that all Homo Sapiens have a conscience then you’re not going to run fast enough to escape the human predators that don’t. Good luck.

      2. guest earthling said on December 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm


        While I understood what you meant when you compared the current state of the Internet with African veldt 10,000 years ago I think a comparison with Wild West of XIX century America is more appropriate.

        All the cruelty of predators is dictated by nature, by instincts, by the need to survive. All the actors (predators and preys) are well adapted to their environment and are result of natural evolution. Their existence is governed by laws of nature.

        While, at first, the current state of Internet may bear similarities to the world of animals, actors on the Internet are not governed by instincts, it is not a fight for survival as it happens in nature. The comparison is superficial. The actors on the internet are governed by other motives and are first of all social and political products. They are Homo Sapiens, they have conscience and intelligence.

        In other words application of concepts of natural evolution to the evolution of society in terms of politics and sociology is a faulty approach. Moreover, It has been tried many times in history. And that false and pseudoscientific approach has got a name: Social Darvinism.

  5. guest earthling said on December 3, 2015 at 4:54 pm


    I respect your opinion and your right to disagree with me.

    I will add such entities as APT-s, hate groups, stalkers, and many other groups and types, whether organized sporadically or under some control or guidance, who are capable of tracking, gathering, analyzing, and ABUSING the info they collect on people/communities/organizations who are on-line. Millions of people worldwide are their potential victims as all of us learn from time to time.

    And I am not talking about legitimate and prefectly legal ways of gathering info that can also be the source for abuse, as the unending reports on breaches vividly tell us.

    I just generally described the situation that is well-known at least to those who have some interest in computers and internet.

    So where in that world does on-line privacy fit?

    1. jern said on December 3, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      @guest earthling

      You ask, “So where in that world does on-line privacy fit?” That’s the million dollar question. The current legal situation is so fluid and uncertain that Microsoft recently called for clarification. In the future, we may get to a point where we are all required to sign a EULA giving away our privacy before we are allowed onto the internet.

      1. jern said on December 4, 2015 at 1:35 am

        I just found the following article. It demonstrates vividly the legal tug-of-war over internet privacy in the United States. This isn’t going to get resolved quickly or easily.

        Congress Wants to Protect Your Emails From Warrantless Searches
        But law enforcement wants easier access to them.

  6. guest earthling said on December 3, 2015 at 9:37 am

    On-line privacy is illusion.
    Internet is reincarnation of humanity in digital and on-line form: with all the good and bad traits and habits. It is the mirror that just reflects the real world.

    On-line security and privacy awareness of ordinary people is still terribly bad. A lot of people who use computers everyday, unfortunately, lack basic knowledge of how to optimally configure their devices so that they will minimize the risk of being attacked and abused. No one is assured against breach, but, if precautionary measures are taken, then the risk can be minimized.

    The current situation, when millions of people use computers everyday, but substantial number of them can’t even configure an app or device using the interface is to large extent the result of not systematic learning of using digital devices, but a result of a personal trial-and-error learning process. Computers were and still are considered on the same level as TVs, refrigirators, or any other electric/electronic household device. And that lack of knowledge on the part of ordinary people is used/abused by many actors on the Internet.

    Despite all the efforts to raise public awareness about computer security and privacy by media outlets and some institutions in some countries but not in all countries in the world, the majority of people still remain unreachable in terms of conveying the info, because general/public mediaoutlets still pay little attention to the issue. The info spreads through outlets that are interesting to people who have interest in computers and Internet already.

    An increase in computer privacy and security awareness by general public will be the cause for a substantial shift in many concepts that shape Internet world today. That is why it may not happen in near future or ever at all. The influx of millions of people to the world of Internet in late 90’s and early 00’s dramatically changed it. And the Internet will change again once the majority will perceive the need for privacy and security.

    1. jern said on December 3, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Ok, I’ll open this can of worms. I don’t think that “On-line privacy is illusion.” I think it’s real and that it scares the crap out of some people.

      Obviously, commercial types hate ad-blockers that stop advertising and tracking – those browser extensions could literally shut them out. They have an interest in keeping online walls transparent. Government types, like the NSA, profit from transparency.

      Personally, I believe that Win10 was created to help maintain that transparency. The best way to bypass browser opacity is with operating system transparency that can’t be bypassed. The NSA gets to keep looking over our shoulders without (potentially illegal) hacking and Bing just showed a profit for the first time in 6 years (a coincidence, I’m sure).

      On-line privacy isn’t an illusion, it’s just something many enterprises don’t want us to have.

    2. Corky said on December 3, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      I would argue that most people don’t even know the importance of privacy, for privacy to matter people first have to be aware of why it’s important.

      Unfortunately the importance of privacy can be a difficult concept to grasp and the ramifications of a lack of privacy even more so.

  7. jern said on December 3, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Mozilla’s “Lightbeam” is an excellent tool that allows users to see all of the subsidiary websites that connect to websites users visit. Mozilla really is “taking this issue quite seriously.” I’m certain many of those subsidiary websites would prefer to remain hidden.

    Firefox and its addons (like Lightbeam and Adblock Plus) can be quite effective in helping users protect at least some of their online privacy – if an effort is made to utilize them. Otherwise, it really is like living in a glass house.

  8. Yuliya said on December 3, 2015 at 12:18 am

    Looks like Mozilla is taking this issue quite seriously. Which is good. It is good that they’re rising awareness. And the way they have done it is really great :) And surprisingly close to reality, unfortunately.

    Now, it’s hard to reach the entire ‘audience’, but only if other companies would follow the same path. Currently I can only think about Vivaldi probably joining in. No way for Microsoft let alone Google to do the same, and they have a large portion of market share.

    Ah well, there’s a beginning for everything. And at the end of the day it is also up to the user to not willingly give their personal data away. No company wants to store your data just because they are a bunch of good people who want to make sure that your memories or whatever are kept safe. They will try to monetize every single word or piece of information that you are giving to them about yourself.

    1. Carl Stak said on December 3, 2015 at 3:09 am

      I have enjoyed reading your posts for several years now, Martin, and have learned a great deal from them. I have wanted to point out that native speakers of English don’t say “information are”, we say “information is”, and now I’m finally doing it.


      1. Martin Brinkmann said on December 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

        Yeah that is one of those things that I cannot hammer into my head.. Thanks for letting me know, again ;)

  9. Tom Hawack said on December 2, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Interesting. I’m not sure a majority of users of the Web are naive to the point of ignoring privacy issues but I do imagine that even among those who are aware many don’t “feel” what they hear of and therefor don’t translate to precautions what is conceived rather abstractly.

    Someone in the second video explained that he believed concern started when collected data was not anonymous. Maybe this is interesting as well, the fact that many users are aware of data collection but not sure when iy’s collected anonymously or not.

    Unfortunately, if the same video had been produced by, i.e. the EFF, the argument of auto-promotion wouldn’t exist when it might very well be a counter-argument considering many believe that anything related to promotion is suspicious in its objectivity. Even if I do believe that Mozilla Firefox is at this time the browser with the best potential in terms of privacy protection, I admit I was surprised at the end of the second video to see Firefox appear as the solution, surprised and immediately waked up from the thoughts the experiment had inspired me. Maybe am I too suspicious, because promotion may very well say the truth, and I think it did it here in this experience. But if I knew nothing of Firefox would I perceive this experience the same way?

    By the way, ‘t was a pleasure to see Hamburg’s harbor and streets, reminded me memories there many many years ago, and a very nice youth hostel we stayed in. :)

    But there’s a lot to comment on this experimentation. A lot to tall about. A good thing you brought this up, Martin.

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