Ghostery: open source and new business model
The source code of the privacy extension Ghostery for the web browsers Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Edge, has been published on GitHub by the development company.
Ghostery is a very popular browser extension. On Firefox, it is one of seven extensions with more than 1 million users; and on Chrome, it has more than 2.8 million active users.
The extension has not been without controversy in the past. While the extension did what it was supposed to do -- protect user privacy while running -- it was the underlying revenue scheme of the company that met criticism.
Ghostery collected Ghost Rank data, anonymized the data and put it up for sale. A lack of transparency made it look as if Ghostery was playing a double role by promising users privacy while selling data to advertising companies at the same time.
The practice ended with the acquisition of Ghostery by Cliqz in February 2017. Cliqz is majority-owned by Hubert Burda Media. Mozilla, maker of Firefox, made a strategic investment in Cliqz in 2016.
Mozilla faced criticism in the past as well over its relationship with Cliqz and experiments it ran. This culminated in Mozilla running an experiment on 1% of the Firefox population of Germany that saw Cliqz activated automatically in the browser. Cliqz took over the browser's address bar and sent anything entered into the address bar to its servers to power its functionality.
Open Source Ghostery
Releasing code as open source improves transparency but it also invites others to take part in the development. Ghostery's move makes sense from a business point of view as the code of the extension is now in the open so that anyone may check it for privacy issues.
Interested users can check out the code on GitHub. It needs to be noted that Ghostery released the code for its browser extensions only and not for the mobile applications.
Business Model changes
Ghostery needs to generate revenue as a company. Ghostery plans to generate revenue in two ways in the future according to a report on Wired:
- Ghostery Insights -- a new paid premium product for researchers, journalists and others interested in the "webpage and tracker ecosystem".
- Ghostery Rewards -- an opt-in system to highlight relevant deals to users based on browsing activity.
It is unclear yet how Ghostery Insights will be different from the previous model. Ghostery plans to launch the feature later this year.
Ghostery Rewards seems more straightforward and it it is opt-in, should not be of much concern to users who don't find it particularly useful.
Users should not confuse Rewards with the sneaked in promotional message system of 2015 which was opt-out but limited to Ghostery-related messages.
It remains to be seen how well the changes are received by the userbase. The release of the extension as open source is a step in the right direction and that Ghostery Rewards will be opt-in is good to know as well.
There is some uncertainty surrounding Ghostery Insights though. How and what data is collected, and what is shared with paying customers?
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