Ghostery: Online Privacy Control Browser Extension

No one ever wants their surfing habits to be monitored. By now, most of us know that many companies and even governments track our every move on the web. These entities collect out information and details for marketing or monitoring purposes. While this may not be malicious always, it can be a bit harmful sometimes.

If you do not want your online life to be monitored you can always set your browsers to not accept cookies, but unfortunately many websites won’t work well if we disable cookies on our browsers. So we need something strong to protect ourselves against online data collection companies like advertisers and social networking websites. What about using a browser plug-in!! Yeah that seems to be a good idea. There are many tools offering these features, and we have already seen some like PrivacyFix, Web Shield, etc. Today we’ll be reviewing Ghostery, one of the most popular free online Privacy Control browser extension, offering ‘do not track’ capabilities.

Ghostery

Everyone wants to protect their privacy on the internet, and there are many free privacy tools available. Internet Explorer already offers Do Not Track capabilities and the Enhanced Protected Mode. But for those who are looking for a stronger fix, Ghostery may well prove to be the answer. Ghostery is an excellent extension for all popular browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome & Opera. With it’s very intuitive interface Ghostery shows the details about the companies collecting your information. This browser add-on blocks the tacking code and does everything it claims to do all it can, to protect your privacy.

Ghostery Review

The program has a very user-friendly interface and helps you in tracking beacons, web bugs, and cookies right from your browser. Once you install the extension, a small ghost appears on the upper right corner of your browser and detects the hidden web-scripts on a Web Page. As you open a tab, a quick a purple box appears with the details of companies tracking your information.

Ghostery also launches an introduction page with an informative tutorial about what the program actually does. From the ‘Settings’ option of the program you can choose to opt into GhostRank which collects hidden data about the trackers you’ve encountered and the sites on which they were placed. GhostRank then sends these additional details to Evidon, its parent company.

You can block each individual tracker from the list or, you can block them in bulk from the “Option” settings under the Ghostery button. Just click the boxes next to the various categories of trackers and keep your Web surfing absolutely private. The program does not automatically block trackers.

You can block the social buttons appearing on the Web pages by blocking the tracker of corresponding social networking websites. For example if you block the tracker of Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter; you won’t see these share buttons on the page instead you will see a Ghostery button indicating that these trackers have been blocked. Well, if you want to see them make sure you keep them in your whitelist.

However, the program has been under a bit of cloud, ever since the online marketing company Evidon bought it in 2010. Some say that Evidon sells the collected data from Ghostery users who have enabled the GhostRank feature – but then again you can always choose not to turn it ON.

Overall Ghostery is a useful program. It is a free plug-in and works well with most of the popular browsers. It installs and uninstalls without any issues. We recommend it to our readers looking for a way to secure their privacy online.

You can download it here. If there are any Ghostery users here, satisfied or unsatisfied, we’ love to hear your feedback!

How to prevent websites from tracking your location, by disabling Geolocation in your browser may also interest you.

Posted by on , in Category Security with Tags
Shiwangi is a qualified writer and a blogger, who loves to dabble with and write about computers. While focusing on and writing on technology topics, her varied skills and experience enables her to write on any topics which may interest her. Creating a System Restore Point first before installing a new software, and being careful about any third-party offers while installing freeware is recommended.

5 Comments

  1. ErnieK

    Ghostery is a really great program and I have been using it for a couple of years now without issues.
    If you want to allow any given instance that Ghostery blocks all you have to do is enable from the Ghostery button on the toolbar.

    For example if you enable all items during set-up [a 2 minute job which Ghostery guides you through]
    you will not be able to to see or post into the comments here at TWC.. To re-enable this go to the Ghostery button and enable DISQUES. This will then enable Disques for use here. It is a simple job to disable it again after you leave TWC
    ErnieK

  2. I love Ghostery. I’m a bit irritated with its developer, though, because I long-ago reported to him/her that even if one turns-off all pop-up notification bubbles in Ghostery’s settings, one still always sees at least the pop-up bubble which notifies the user that the Ghostery database has updated; and s/he has responded, over time, in ways that suggested s/he either didn’t believe me, or… well… I never did figure out precisely WHAT was the problem. Finally, relatively recently, I’ve taken to posting about it beneath any article I can find about it, and on Ghostery’s Chrome Store page, and in its publicly-visible help system on its website, hoping to finally get the dev’s attention. S/he needs to either make it so that if one turns-off all bubbles, then it includes the database update bubble; either that, or, there needs to be one more separate setting for turning on/off the database update bubble. I don’t know why getting the dev to do that has been such a nightmare, but it’s so irritating that if I could use something else, I would…

    …which brings me to why I love Ghostery: Because even though I’m angry with the dev over the bubbles, I have to admit that Ghostery is probably best-of-breed for its kind of utility. For about a year, i tested Ghostery side-by-side with Abine’s DO-NOT-TRACK-ME (which, by the way, is also very, very good), and, honestly, they were both doing roughly the same good job most of the time, with Ghostery blocking more things on some sites, and DO-NOT-TRACK-ME blocking more things on others, but, overall, the two of them were basically doing an approximately equally good job. The thing is, though, that DO-NOT-TRACK-ME is trying to sell me things; and is inserting other services into what it does which I find irritating and which I have to turn off. Plus, precisely how to block or unblock certain things either globally or just for a given site is nowhere near as straightfoward in DO-NOT-TRACK-ME as it is in Ghostery.

    There are other similar tools — Shiwangi mentioned a few in her article — and I’ve tried pretty much all of them, out there, over time. Ghostery, honestly, keeps coming-out on top. I’m not saying it’s perfect — after all, it won’t stop popping-up bubbles which tell me that its database has just auto-updated, even though I’ve complained, and complained, and complained about it… to no avail — and it has a couple other minor things that I wish it did differently. But, seriously, what Ghostery does right makes it fairly easy to tolerate the seriously tiny, tiny handful of things that I wish it did differently. Ghostery really is, it pains me when I’m angry with the dev to admit, best-of-breed.

    Couple Ghostery with Ad-Block-Plus, and, also, the use of a HOSTS file manager (like HostsMan, for example), running pre-configured and crowd-maintained HOSTS files like even only just these two…

    * hpHosts (Ad & Tracking Servers Only)
    * Peter Lowe’s AdServers List

    …and allow it to keep them constantly updated (but always, whenever it updates, merging with, and never replacing your HOSTS file; and always removing duplicates) and, honestly, virtually nothing — and I seriously mean NOTHING — in the way of ads and trackers and beacons, etc. (and their cookies, of course), will get through.

    In fact, so much is blocked that you sometimes need to figure out which of the three tools (Ghostery, Ad-Block-Plus and/or the HOSTS file managed by HostsMan) is blocking whenever something you actually want — like Disqus, for example — is being blocked; and then you need to go into whatever’s blocking it (and sometimes it’s more than one of the tools in question) and allow it. In the case of Ad-Block-Plus, now, your only choice is to stop it from running at all on the site in question; whereas with both Ghostery and the HOSTS file managed by HostsMan, you can just unblock what you want and leave everything else blocked.

    Ghostery, in particular, now, makes that a breeze. When you’re on a site on which Ghostery’s blocking stuff, just open it and it’ll show you what it’s blocking, and then using two simple buttons you can selectively unblock just what you want, either just on that website, or globally, on all sites… in just one click. Then you refresh the page to see if it’s unblocked, and, voila!, you’re rockin’ and rollin’.

    NOTE: Some websites are getting wise to this, and making it more complicated. The new CBS News site, for example, initially appears to have only four things blocked on it, yet the videos won’t play; and it’s not clear why. So you unblock, one-by-one, and test, reblocking when the one you unblocked doesn’t do it; yet nothing works once you’ve unblocked, tested, and reblocked the four things. Then, on a lark, I unblocked two of them, and when I refreshed the page, the videos started working; but then, the list of blocked things jumped up to… I can’t remember, now… 20 or something things. So, then, in other words, by unblocking the two things, they, in turn, were alllowing other things through; and somewhere in what’s now allowed, is whatever feeds the video. And, no, it’s not obvious how it works from looking at the page source. So THAT was a challenging one; and I’m guessing, by how it finally worked-out, that whomever recently redid the CBS News website is onto Ghostery. And that’s fine; I still got it to work, but it took a while; which I recount, here, so that new Ghostery users will have their eyes wide open about how tricky it can sometimes be. Anyway, back to our story…

    Of course, again, sometimes more than one thing’s blocking, and so if it’s the HOSTS file, then you just go into HostsMan and add whatever you don’t want blocked to the “Exclusions List,” and then flush the DNS cache (which takes a minute or so if your HOSTS file is huge) and away you go.

    Only Ad-Block-Plus, while improved very recently to move its icon out of the Chrome omnibox and over onto the part of the toolbar where all the other extensions’ icons appear (to the right of the omnibox), isn’t selective. Whatever Ad-Block-Plus blocks on a given site isn’t shown individually, like in Ghostery. With Ad-Block-Plus, all you can do is turn it on/off for a given site, meaning that if it blocks five things on a given site, then you must allow all five if you allow one. That sucks, but gratefully the combination of Ghostery and the HOSTS file managed by HostsMan catches most of whatever got unblocked through Ad-Block-Plus. That said, if you know how to figure out the URL of whatever objectionable it is that’s appearing when Ad-Block-Plus is turned off for a given site, you can turn around and add it into your HOSTS file; or, better yet, you can turn Ad-Block-Plus back on for the stie, and then use Ad-Block-Plus’s blacklisting and whitelisting feature to more refine things; but, regardless, it’s a time-consuming pain in the rear. Ad-Block-Plus should be like Ghostery.

    And, in any case, the user of tools like this needs to have eyes wide open about what a pain it is, at first, to fine-tune until, finally, all the stuff you want blocked is blocked, and all the stuff you want unblocked is unblocked. Once it’s right, though, you almost never have to touch any of them again.

    So, my overarching point is that those three tools…

    * Ad-Block-Plus
    * Ghostery
    * The ad-server-related HOSTS files (with HostsMan)

    …will, I’m serious, block pretty much EVERYTHING (that you wouldn’t want, I mean); and, in fact, they tend to over-block, and so you’ll end-up having to unblock things like Disqus, and the part of Facebook that allows comments on webpages, and Adobe webfonts, and Google+ buttons, and stuff like that that you’ll likely want.

    Though the article’s about Ghostery, I nevertheless need to mention (since I’ve mentioned HostsMan) one more of HostsMan’s perhaps-coolest features: Its little “HostsServer,” which is a tiny webserver that sits down in the Windows System Tray (or “Notification Area,” as it’s now called) and intercepts any calls by the computer to any of the blocked URLs in the HOSTS file; and then it feeds back to the browser either an error message or, better yet, a tiny, one-pixel-sized transparent .GIF file…

    …and what *THAT* does — and this is where it just gets so cool — is causes anyplace on the page where advertising would normally have appeared to simply be blank; or, even better yet, if the site is modern and uses DIV and CSS (instead of HTML tables, and fixed-size advertising areas), then wherever there would have been an ad just closes-in around the one-pixel transparent .GIF and simply disappears from the page, altogether. It’s just so, so, so cool!

    One time when I was trying to explain it to a client, I installed HostsMan on his machine and configured it and its HostsServer, then downloaded only the two HOSTS files that I herein earlier mentioned; and then, with HostsMan off, I showed him what Yahoo’s front page looks like in one tab; then I turned-on HostsMan and flushed the DNS cache (using HostsMan; and waited for a minute for it to finish, else when you try to hit the site again, it just times-out) and hit the Yahoo front page again in a new tab. Then we bounced back and forth between the tabs so he could see what Yahoo looks like without all the ads. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He will not, to this day, use a computer that isn’t running HostsMan. And now, on my recommendation, he’s also using Ad-Block-Plus (with the two EasyLists), and Ghostery…

    …and once fine-tuned, he said, his entire browsing experience is virtually ad- and tracker- bad-stuff-free; and, most importantly, his weekly whole-system anti-malware/anti-adware scans (using SuperAntiSpyware and Malware Bytes) are finding nearly nothing bad anymore…

    …’cause nearly nothing bad’s getting through, anymore. Add to all that a decent anti-virus-with-HIPS-and-firewall suite (like the free COMODO INTERNET SECURITY, for example), and virtually nothing bad ever really DOES get through! I’ve got those tools on my machine so finely-tuned, now, over time, that my periodic anti-malware scans are showing absolutely nothing. In fact, the only thing that ever pops-up (gets flagged by anti-malware tools), anymore, are some of the password-hacking and other similar NirSoft utilities maintained by Kirysoft’s “Windows System Control Center” (WSCC), whenever they update, and so the anti-malware utilities suddenly no longer recognize them. And so I just re-report them as false-positives, and they never show-up again during scans… er… well… you know… that is, until they update through WSCC, again, then I gotta’ re-report them… and so on, and so on.. But I can live with that periodic irritation in order to get the virtually impenetrable fortress around my machine that I’ve had, for years, using these tools…

    …all for FREE! Norton, or McAfee, or ESET, or even Kaspersky got nuthin’ on my little pseudo-suite of FREE tools, as herein described. I highly recommend them… especially the best-of-breed Ghostery!

    So, then… how’d I do with the “[i]f there are any Ghostery users here, satisfied or unsatisfied, we’ love to hear your feedback,” thing, there, Shiwangi? [grin]

    Hope that helps.

    __________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  3. shiwangi peswani

    Yeah EmieK Ghostery is indeed a wonderful and useful program. It helps you see, understand and control your privacy online.

  4. shiwangi peswani

    Thank You Gregg for your insights and an elaborate comment . 🙂 It really added more sugar to my coffee 😀

  5. Jill

    I completely agree, Ghostery is a beneficial tool and works very well. However, there is a brand new privacy tool in the Chrome Web Store right now called Tag Explorer. Like Ghostery, it is a browser plugin that shows you every tag firing on a single page of your site. However, what makes Tag Explorer unique is the fact that it shows you the hierarchy of tags, or how each individual tag is loaded, and also shows the location of the IP Address from where each tag is being loaded onto the site. Definitely worth a try! You can install the plugin here: http://goo.gl/uIK8lM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


9 + 2 =