LightBeam: A Network of Cookies
Upon first impression, I thought LightBeam was an extension for your browser that basically turned your computer’s screen to pure white at max brightness to create a beam of light that one can use as a flash light. My predication was completely wrong and did not even come close to what the extension actually does. I personally did not know what LightBeam was until I searched for it on Google. As an avid user of Safari, I never heard of this extension as its only available on Firefox. To be honest, I dreaded having to download a new browser just to use this extension. But I’m glad I did because I discovered a great tool that presents me with interesting data about cookies, and simultaneously I got a chance to take a break from Safari and try a new web browser.
Created by Mozilla, LightBeam is an add-on for Firefox that displays third party tracking cookies placed on the user’s computer while visiting various websites. It uses interactive visualizations to show you sites you interact with on the Web. Thanks to Mozilla, this extension has allowed the average user to know how they are being tracked by first and third party websites on the internet. This is huge because it uncovers the truth about online privacy. Many if not all websites track the visitors on their websites to gain insightful information about their browsing habits such as time spent looking at items online, or things a person searches. All this data is gold to advertisers as it allows them to directly target ads to the user. However, cookies are not all bad news, by storing a few cookies on a user’s computer websites are able to load faster making the web browsing experience much more pleasant and quick.
After downloading Firefox and installing LightBeam, I browsed the web for about 25 minutes, and visited the main sites I usually check on a daily basis. The following graph outlines my data and network of cookies.
Within the first 5 mins of browsing, LightBeam generated a graph with several nodes that branched out from the main site. I was quite surprised to see just how quickly the graph grew just by visiting a few sites. I noticed that some sites stored more cookies than others. For example, when I visited Apple’s website and my.ryerson they did not create many nodes. Their visual representation was small compared to other sites that created lots of nodes that branched out and connected to one another. The main websites I noticed that used the most cookies were Macrumors, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. I noticed a pattern between these 3 sites. They’re all websites that offer news and articles. It was interesting to see that they all generated the most cookies and how the graph grew tremendously upon visiting them. I also noticed that many of these nodes are interconnected to one another. Some nodes that branched out from Yahoo were connected to nodes from Youtube.
I’m thankful for an extension like LightBeam because it has truly opened my eyes to how websites track users and made me more aware about my privacy on the web.