Ghostery: open source and new business model

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 9, 2018

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

ghostery 8 simple

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:

  1. Ghostery Insights -- a new paid premium product for researchers, journalists and others interested in the "webpage and tracker ecosystem".
  2. 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.

Closing Words

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?

Now You: Do you use privacy extensions? What's your take on the development?

Ghostery: open source and new business model
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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.
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  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

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