Track Web Trackers Using Firefox Add-On 'Lightbeam'

Dennis Faas's picture

Mozilla's new 'Lightbeam' add-on for the Firefox Internet browser is designed to help users better understand who might be tracking their online activity. The add-on uses a unique visualization technique to bring that information to light.

Lightbeam is a more refined version of a previous (and more experimental) add-on called 'Collusion', which was developed by Mozilla and software developer Atul Varma.

Add-On Provides Real-Time Tracking of the Trackers

Unlike its predecessor, Lightbeam provides users with a real-time graph showing all of the cookies being added to your browser as you surf the web. According to Mozilla, the goal is to "illuminate the inner workings of the web."

In other words, Mozilla wants to show users how their online activity is collected and used by advertisers.

"As a part of Lightbeam, we're creating a big-picture view of how tracking works on the Internet, and how third-party sites are connected to multiple other sites," Mozilla says.

To help Firefox users understand how their data is being used, Lightbeam employs interactive visualizations, including graphs, clocks, and lists. An intuitive interface allows users to easily sift through this information.

"The visualization grows with every site you visit and every request made from your browser," Mozilla says.

"In addition to the graph view, you can also see your data in a clock view to examine connections over a 24-hour period or in a List view to drill down into individual sites." (Source:

Not All Tracking Bad, Mozilla Insists

Although Mozilla is clearly keen on helping web surfers understand how their online activity is tracked, it's also making sure Firefox users know that not all tracking is bad.

The Internet firm says that some tracking can actually be quite useful; for example, by allowing users to save time by auto-filling web forms.

Mozilla funded the Lightbeam project through a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The add-on was designed in part by students from Vancouver, British Columbia's Emily Carr University of Art and Design. (Source:

If you're interested in giving Lightbeam a try, click here.

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