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

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?

Article Name
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. Lugo said on March 10, 2018 at 9:18 am

    I use AdGuard for Windows which includes Privacy Module to cover all of my privacy concerns. I also use Decentraleyes & HTTPS Everywhere with Firefox Beta.
    Ghostery has dubious history about privacy! So, I do not want to give it try. My arsenal is well enough. No need for an adventure!

  2. DNT said on March 10, 2018 at 12:37 am

    It spies on the final user. Cliqz is another BIG DATA hoarder enterpreneurship. I’ll avoid both.

  3. TianlanSha said on March 9, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    I prefer Disconnect.

  4. Rick A. said on March 9, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    i’ll stick with uBlock Origin in Advanced Medium Blocking Mode and Privacy Badger.

  5. Derek said on March 9, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    Use Privacy Badger instead

  6. Franck said on March 9, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Good news, thanks Martin !

  7. DM said on March 9, 2018 at 11:30 am

    Good, but I’m still going to use uBlock Origin and uMatrix. No reason to change that.

    1. average joe dolan said on March 9, 2018 at 8:17 pm

      … and Decentraleyes, don’t forget: CDNs are as bad as your average day tracker ;)

  8. Yuliya said on March 9, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I will still recommend people irl to ditch whatever ad blocker they use and switch to uBlockOrigin and to use the MVPS hosts file – people often end up having their adblocker removed wihout recollection of how that happened; idk how this happens, but it happens, lol. It also makes things easier for me to troubleshoot over the phone, as I know uB0’s interface even without having it in front of me.

    It does make things somewhat better for Ghostery though. It is a step into the right direction. If you insist in using it, I would still stay away from it, until there’s a fork with all the telemetry and data collection nonsense completely eradicated.

  9. Kubrick said on March 9, 2018 at 10:58 am

    Looking at the history of this extension it would appear it is nothing more but another wolf in sheeps clothing.Doesnt matter what “acquisitions” take place ,its just another coat they put on.Trust is something earned and once that trust becomes tainted then it is very difficult to get back.

    1. insanelyapple said on March 9, 2018 at 11:38 am

      That’s exactly why I won’t trust them ever again.

  10. Appster said on March 9, 2018 at 10:34 am

    Oh, I didn’t think this would ever happen. Took them an entire year to do, after all. I won’t complain about this product not being open source anymore.

    1. Zuck said on April 2, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      I’ll just keep this for the record.

      Your crusade and omnipresence, Appster, have driven out many valuable commenters and changed the face of Ghacks comments for the worse IMO. Made it very opinionated, needlessly conflictual and not particularly factual either. Now it’s just your turn to leave. You yourself know you’ve been wasting your time, mental well-being and energy doing that, so I hope your life will improve from the change of course you decided to take.

      I didn’t read that it has been the case, but if any actual threat has been made to your physical self or your privacy I stand on your side.

      Apart from that, I am curious to see which road Ghacks comments will take from now on. I hope they will be more friendly, less political, less of extreme opinions presented as pure facts, and more of helping each other solve needs or answer questions around the topics covered by Ghacks.

    2. Tom Hawack said on March 9, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      @Appster, the article states,

      “It needs to be noted that Ghostery released the code for its browser extensions only and not for the mobile applications.”

      Maybe has the company decided to retreat on the PC battlefield and focus on its mobile applications?

      I’m surprised myself.

      1. Appster said on March 11, 2018 at 5:19 am

        @Tom Hawack:

        Just wanted to let you know that I am going to quit posting on gHacks now. As it seems, my criticism towards the Pale Moon browser has attracted violent offenders, who seem to make fun of my user name by using a look-alike on 4chan in order to damage my reputation, see here:

        Here as well: and and

        My life was peaceful and quiet before I got involved at gHacks. Now some psychopath is coming at me, in order to destroy my reputation. I can use my time in more useful ways than to try and stop a mentally ill Pale Moon fanboy rampaging me:

        I am sad to not being able to comment anymore. Your posts especially were always amazing, Tom. Keep up the good fight, my french comrade.


        Maybe they are focusing on their mobile apps now, but the frequency of Ghostery updates indicates nothing of that sort.

      2. Lord Lestat said on March 13, 2018 at 11:30 pm

        Sorry for being one of the violent offender writers most likely in your eyes.

        Please understand the following, i just hate minor groups being bashed. I also would jump in real life in the line of fire if i see someone gets his ass kicked by a larger group.

        I had a very bad day at that point and your attitude made me finally explode. So i withdraw right here and now the most horrible insults i sent in your direction and every kind of thread which was gone in your or others direction. And as that article here seems to become an apologizing show, count me in to that too. Do not leave. This really has gone too far. And cursed should be the ones who took your name and have thrown it into the garbage!

      3. Kossan Nyx said on March 13, 2018 at 11:10 pm

        Appster, sorry that my posts too have been offending you – You really should stay. Leaving is simply no option. Just step back a few steps, like i too will step back some steps.

        This horrible debacle has shown quite something: We all should try harder to become nicer beings. And me – apologizing – is starting already with that.

      4. Vakarian said on March 12, 2018 at 12:14 pm

        A pitty what has happened to you Appster, but you have been calling out for that, even if you have not realized it.

        Free speech ends at that point when you make fun of others because they are unable to handle or fix certain things or if people are getting humiliated because of certain limitations in general.

        That is a point of no return. Seems someone got finally so angry about you that exactly that happened what happened.

        I do not agree in general with treatment like that, but you are in the end to blame for what has happened to you.

        The sad thing: You should have known better in the end.

        Btw. i liked some of your not Pale Moon related comments, you have some skills in writing

      5. Tom Hawack said on March 11, 2018 at 10:33 am

        @Appster, what is happening to you because of your comments is revolting. Freedom of speech is something some psychopaths cannot accept. I don’t know how I’d react to that, I guess that after revolt and anger I’d take the time to consider the situation objectively ; from there on maybe would I pause, circumvent. But abandoning if otherwise than as a retreat for a better come-back sounds like a defeat. I appreciate your comments, and generally speaking we learn from contradictory debates, not from consensus. I never spotted demagogy in your comments, always enriched with references. Take a pause but do come back, at least here. Tomorrow is another day, tomorrows often another era. Chin up, Appster, and remember those who appreciate your frank and honest comments : many do silently.

        Hope to read you soon, Appster. Stay on-line.

      6. Ijadas said on March 23, 2018 at 6:34 pm

        Actually.. Not wanting to beat a dead horse here… But….

        Just saying, this is pretty much the anti-thesis of being honest and nice!

        and then the answer here:

        “You won’t stop me from voicing my opinion by such methods. If needed I create a second or third etc. account. Is that understood? Know that threatening me for voicing my opinion and making suggestions leads nowhere.”

        Creating a second or third board account… That is a rather… shady attempt of.. well.. handling a certain situation… Nuff said.

        Sun-Glasses/Appster was for sure not the most nicest individual. And tons of Pale Moon posts of his show that more than clear.

      7. Appster said on March 12, 2018 at 10:36 pm

        @Tom Hawack:

        Truth to be told, I have grown tired of the gHacks comment section a long time ago. Some commenters here seem very intend to win an argument for the sake of winning. They seem to think that insults and other ad hominem attacks are a viable form of communication, and that is annoying me and angering me at the same time. This starts to show a detrimental effect on my health. These commenters I talk about can be fans of any browser, really. No group is better or worse than the other, as far as I can tell.

        But stealing my identity and writing things in my name that I do not agree with, is what makes me quit commenting at this very moment. It‘s one thing to disagree with me – you are free to do that, even in harsher words than normal – but it is another thing entirely to steal my name. There is absolutely no justification for that kind of action.

        I will return to a more peaceful lifestyle now, leaving the gHacks comment section behind me. Some of the guys posting here were amazing, especially Pants and you. You always had a point and you did never even attempt to put others down. Thank you for that. I very much enjoyed to read comments like these.

        My decision is final and irreversible, I am not going to post anything here ever again. I also withdraw from talking about browsers in general. If there is anything I have learned at this place, it would be that people flock to the product they prefer, and even rant and insult others because of … a browser. I am not taking part in that any longer. It is tiresome and in the end – pointless.

        I apologize to those who have felt wronged by me, this was certainly not my intention.

        I leave with peace at the bottom of my heart.

        And a few words to you @Vakarian: I doubt that you would be so mild if it was your name that got stolen and misused. Please try to view the situation from my point of view. They obviously crossed several red lines there. Identity theft is unacceptable to me, and should be unacceptable to you. Please don‘t try to find a justification for that, and please do not try to put me down at the moment of farewell. I consider to know what you mean to say, but again – they overreached there, and quite a bit at that. Anyway, farewell to you as well.

      8. Vakarian said on March 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm


        I would not go that far to say to not post here any longer.

        You have just made the mistake to argue with emotionally attached people. The issue with that one’s is that they react unpredictable, some ignore you, some curse you, some even would go so far to try to destroy your life or even yourself if they are angered too much.

        I just would take another name here and make a fresh new start – without making the same mistake again to try to argue in a section with emotionally attached people.

        Just post in the add-on sections or other general technology related sections. By now you know what to avoid, so i see no issue in not staying here after all.

        If you want to talk to someone, i would gladly listen to you – i know exactly how it is to be emotional attached. Stayed with Firefox 24 for 2 years and i even attacked a friend of mine who told me that customization is not relevant today as the user demands have changed. Needlessly to say, that day i lost my best friend.

        That was waking me up – i changed attitude and today i am using Chrome and… what for a surprise – have the same opinion of that ex friend of mine – he was totally right and i have thrown a great friendship away because i was so dedicated in what was not worth at all the effort.

        Anyway, let me know if you need someone to talk to. Good luck!

        Again..If you stop posting here, you allow that person/persons to win. You want to give them that benefit? In your case i would give a damn – and just ignore the Pale Moon articles and their users.

      9. Vakarian said on March 12, 2018 at 1:22 pm

        Tom Hawack free speech… There is no justification when it is angering people beyond reason. Or would you like to be parented again and again and restricted in your own opinion?

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