If you haven’t heard of Ghostery, then you’re really missing out on something special. It’s a plugin for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari with Android and iOS versions available that lets you know what trackers are grabbing all of your data. They have been on a mammoth upswing lately that appears to be culminating in a Ghostery browser sometime later this year.
According to Ghostery’s Director of Research Andy Kahl, the browser will be a similar experience to browsing the internet with just the add-on but future updates will add unique security and privacy features that will add to the experience. That means on every website you’ll get to see the trackers the site is using and you’ll have the ability to turn them off. He did mention that most of the future updates for the unique security and privacy features won’t be available until 2015.
We also spoke with Ghostery’s Andy Kahl briefly about their stance on the current state of Internet security and tracking, the obfuscation of terms of service agreements, and how companies can be more transparent with their advertising. You can read the interview in full below.
Will your standalone web browser allow for a more transparent browsing environment than the add ons? How will the web browser be more effective?
The standalone browser will allow us to build add-on functionality directly into a browser – so at first, it will be a similar experience to browsing with an add-on. Our roadmap includes various security and privacy features that will ultimately be built in, though that more robust app likely won’t be available until 2015. Currently, there are no plans to release a Ghostery browser for the desktop environment.
How do you think the internet could re-model its approach to advertisements to make it more transparent while still remaining effective at showing people ads that are relevant to them?
There’s an easy way to start, and that’s to outright end any attempt to obfuscate the business model or worse, subvert a user’s ability to control their data. That’s definitely step 1 – lets get the whole ecosystem out of the shadows. Steps 2-X would then involve working on ways to make users better understand the notices and disclosures they’re given, and possibly offering alternate ways to support sites for users who aren’t comfortable with data trading.
There's an easy way to start, and that's to outright end any attempt to obfuscate the business model.
You mentioned before how businesses have to develop a culture of transparency. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations on how they could that?
As users, we have to stop reacting from fear and doubt. A data-driven, quantified future is an inevitability – what remains to be seen is how well we build privacy protections into that future. The issue is more nuanced than a lot of our gut reactions (and, dare I say it, journalism around the topic) suggests, and we have to engage in real informed decisions to help dictate how that future develops. As an industry, we have to recognize that the data-driven cat is out of the bag. Trying to smooth things over by pretending it’s not a issue is wasting valuable time. We have to create plain language statements about the types of data that are collected as well as how it is used, and we have to be mindful of the response we get to those statements.
Do you believe that subscription-based, ad-free monetization models could be viable?
I think there is a subset of the internet-using population that would pay for content in exchange for a privacy-forward way to interact with that content. It may not be viable for a content provided to offer only third-party-free subscriptions, but providing an option for users who would rather trade currency than data could be a big step.
How do you think companies should approach their TOS in order to encourage new users to actually read them?
I understand why TOS and Privacy Policies become what they are – legal departments are very careful to make sure that sites and apps aren’t put in a position of liability. So there’s a two-fold effort here: sites must create some kind of plain language use statement apart from their legal documents, and (the) Attorney General must honor the spirit of these disclosures instead of incentivizing companies to wrap those disclosures in layer upon layer of carefully crafted legal protections.
(the) Attorney General must honor the spirit of these disclosures instead of incentivizing companies to wrap those disclosures in layer upon layer of carefully crafted legal protections.
We’d like to thank Ghostery for sitting down and having a chat with us. Their vision for the future is pretty exciting and it really would be fantastic to see companies take people’s internet privacy more seriously. If you would like to give Ghostery a try, head to their official website where you can pick up the desktop plugin, the Android plugin (for Firefox browser only), and on iOS.