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Lightbeam: What your web browser is really doing

Lightbeam: What your web browser is really doing
Shine a light on who's watching you, with Lightbeam for Firefox

For those interested in their web browsing privacy, the free browser plugin Lightbeam offers some insight on exactly what your browser is doing behind the scenes.

Developed specifically for Mozilla Firefox, Lightbeam offers some interesting and fairly revealing information on what exactly the websites you're visiting are doing. It's opening headline is "Shine a Light on Who's Watching You", and that's pretty much what it aims to do. It works by capturing all connection information on each website and logging it in an easy to read graphical presentation, or in a list with various statistics.

Let's go through an example of how Lightbeam actually captures and presents the data. Let's say I have Lightbeam running in a new, blank Firefox Tab. When I browse to a website, let's say, paypal.com, Lightbeam gets to work and captures all traffic that that website uses. Here's the result below. 

Just from 5 websites

And here's the same information displayed in the list view:

List View

Notice how the site I'm on - paypal.com - shows as ‘visited' under Type, and the other site (which I wasn't aware of - paypalobjects.com) shows as ‘Third Party'. Usually speaking, websites host their content across several ‘sub' sites, in this case, paypalobjects.com, these sub sites are often used to host embedded images, videos, adverts, etc.

If I click on one of the websites, I get more information on tracking, geographical location of where the website is hosted, and third party websites connected to the site I'm on. It also allows me to block that site if i think it is suspicious and don't want my computer connected to it (use this with caution though, as blocking the wrong site can cause the primary site to malfunction). 

Geographical information

Let's do another test, this time a Google search for Ebay, then clicking the Ebay UK link. Here's a screenshot, notice how I visit google.co.uk, which automatically connects back to google.com in America, as well as gstatic.com which is a Google service that tracks your activity on the site

Third party sites

Next, I'll click the Ebay UK link at the top of the page. 

Growing list of sites

Notice at this point how many sub-sites Ebay uses. It's also worth noting that I use an Advert Blocking plugin in the browser, if I were to disable it, the list would be substantially larger.

If I browse to five more websites, then open the graph, here's what my graph looks like:

From 5 websites alone!

This should give you an idea of the amount of connections you are making just by simply browsing to a web page. Each one of these connections is how the website works, but you may also find that, in the case of Google for example, your activity is tracked through cookie downloads and ‘third party' sub sites designed to record your web searches and activity.

Finally, if I do a web search using duckduckgo.com - a search engine that uses encryption and privacy tools and does not track you whatsoever, the results after a web search for "paypal" yield one website in Lightbeam - my connection to the search engine, and nothing else. 

 

You can get the Firefox plugin for Lightbeam here:

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/lightbeam/

You can start using DuckDuckGo as an alternative, privacy focused search engine here:

https://duckduckgo.com/

Thanks for reading! 

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