The above is the screen grab of the graph that I obtained from the Firefox add on, Lightbeam by web surfing for 20 minutes. Lightbeam captures real time visualization of the websites we visit and every third party site that track us when we browse the web. The tabs on the bottom left corner of the screen explain the sites and connections such as the white colored halos on circles of the sites visited; the white triangles of the third party sites; the white lines being the connections from one site to another; and the blue lines being the connections to cookies which show that the former has set one or two third-party cookies to inform the latter site of our visit.
Cookies are pieces of information in the form of a very small text file that is placed on an internet user’s hard drive and is generated be a webpage server. It is considered to be an internet user’s identity card which tells a website when the user has returned and remembers information from previous visits to the websites. Therefore, cookies can enhance our experience on the web but cookies can also be used to track our activities and can be placed on our computer without our knowledge. These are usually placed by companies that engage in online advertising on behalf of other sites.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of tracking information. Since the quantity of data is growing at a rapid rate “big data”, retailers need to track data to record customer activity. Many organizations currently utilize user data to understand people better and allocate resources more effectively. Organizations working in logistics, financial services, health care etc., need to capture data to be more efficient but tracking without our knowledge is not acceptable by some members of our society and considered an invasion of our privacy.
Cookies cannot access a computer’s hard drive and obtain information even though they are placed there, but users can feel threatened by finding cookies from websites that they have never visited and this information could be relayed to third party sites without the awareness of the users. Therefore, lightbeam provides tracking information to its users to ensure the significance of transparency so that we can set our web browser to block any cookies that we do not want installed on our web browser.