In Collusion

Did you know that when you landed on this page that you activated a cookie?  If you look in the sidebar, WordPress gives me a counter for the number of people who land here.  It’s something that you might not necessarily know about but it happens daily all over the web.  This is but one example.

I spent the day monkeying around with a new Add-on to the Firefox browser called "Collusion". If you click on the link, you’ll go to the Mozilla page where this Add-on is stored so that you can download it.  However, by doing so, a couple more cookies are set.  Go into the preferences for Collusion and turn on the sound to get the full effect.  As you continue to use the web, Collusion graphically displays the cookies and the connections that they make as you browse.  It’s kind of freaky but it serves to confirm that there’s more going on behind the scenes than you normally see in your browser.  I cleared the cache before starting but now I’m seeing the following …

Clicking on a node gives you the full name of the site providing the cookie.

So, I spent the day messing about.  It was interesting to see what was happening.  I visited a very popular educational blog.  I’ll bet that you’ve visited it many times.  (I won’t name it to avoid embarrassment)  You just know something’s up when you visit a site and see all kinds of advertising and banners for "sponsors" and "other services".  So, I clear things and go again.  Just visiting the front page of the blog returns this.

It makes you scratch your head.  There’s some odd combinations there – Blogger and WordPress.  But, such is the way of web.  Tracking allows for things as simple as counting hits for generating money to the host.  The economics are straight forward – the more hits, the more money generated.  And, if the cookie setter desires, more information to help build a profile of the browser.

What are you to do?  There is lots of advice available for you.  Just do a search for "how to block websites from tracking me" and do some reading and understanding.  It’s pretty good reading and gives a real understanding of how things work when you fire up that browser.  There are other Add-ons that will help the cause by blocking cookies.  Utilities like AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, Advertising Cookie Opt-Out, ar but a few.  Even Collusion has plans for blocking in the future.  You do need to know what you’re doing by installing and activating these utilities.  You may find that your favourite website stops working or is limited in the functions that it performs. 

If nothing else, installing this Add-on and running it for a while – clear the cache before visiting a suspicious page and then let it rip and look at the results.  You really get a sense of the concerns and discussions about privacy on the web.  It’s a great activity to take students through – display your screen and use the results as a launch pad for discussion.

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