There’s much ado about online privacy these days, thanks to organizations ranging from the NSA and Google all the way to Apple. What most people don’t know, however, is that your every day web activity is also being tracked by hundreds and thousands of services, all in the name of “market intelligence” and “improving your experience online”. What these services are actually doing is sharing your entire activity, including clicks, cursor movements, searches, and scrolling, to create a profile so other websites know your shopping and browsing habits the moment you step foot on their website. And during all of this tracking activity, they are also slowing down your web browser. Shouldn’t you be aware of who is tracking your activity, and then have the ability to opt out if you choose?
The good news is, a free tool is available that can show you which trackers are being used on a site, and it can even automatically block them for you, resulting in a less intrusive and faster experience when using the web.
I’ve been using Ghostery for a few weeks now, and I’m loving the experience. Web pages, notably from news organizations, load faster, and it was shocking to see how many trackers are used in every single web page I visit. By default, Ghostery displays exactly what it’s blocking in the bottom right of your browser window, however you can customize how visible Ghostery is to you, once you’re familiar with how it works.
Once downloaded, you’ll be asked to choose the degree of blocking that you’d prefer. In my experience blocking all trackers can sometimes negatively affect certain web pages. For example when I was booking flights, the “Choose your dates” calendar pop-up wouldn’t actually work. I’ve had instances like this a handful of times since I installed the tool. Thankfully, Ghostery’s toolbar extension lets you easily choose to disable certain trackers and reload the page. If you’d like to just block the potentially intrusive trackers, check all of the boxes except for “Widgets”. This option would be the safest way to start, especially if you’re installing this for friends or family.
After using Ghostery for about a month, I’m sold. The few times it has interfered with my browsing is worth the benefit of having a faster Internet experience, and a more private one.
So if this is such a great tool, why don’t more people know about it? And why aren’t companies doing something about this? Well you’re in luck. With the next iOS 9 coming out for iPhones and iPads, Apple is doing something to address the negative consequences of these online trackers. iOS 9 will have a feature that will allow services like Ghostery to install extensions into Safari. Apple’s website specifically mentions that these extensions can “block content”. What else does this mean for mobile users? Not only will your iPhone or iPad get faster when browsing Safari, but these content blockers will reduce the amount of data required and the amount of processing power required when you’re reading online news, and that means longer battery life too. In fact, Apple is touting that this feature, among others collectively, will give your current iPhone up to 1 additional hour of daily use.
It seems bizarre to me that in 2015, many web pages still require a long waiting time to load, especially when using a mobile device. Who doesn’t want a faster, more private online experience, that results in lower data usage and longer battery life? Thanks to Ghostery, you have the tool to help you decide for yourself.