In the hour that Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs lets his 9-year-old daughter surf the web every day, her wanderings have been tracked by dozens of sites.
To some degree, it's to be expected. Tracking our online behavior is big business. The revenues involved in the top online tracking companies in the space is over $39 billion, Kovacs says. It's not something that will be slowing any time soon.
But that isn't for a lack of trying. Kovacs unveiled a new Firefox add-on named Collusion on Tuesday at the Technology Entertainment and Design conference (TED), a visualization tool that depicts the number and different types of sites that are tracking your browsing as you surf the web.
"Privacy is not an option," Kovacs said in his presentation. "It shouldn't be the price we accept for just getting on the internet."
Like some color-coded breakdown of alien DNA, Collusion composes a dot matrix diagram composed of grey dots - sites you've visited or are visiting - connected to red dots: sites that have passed your browser tracking cookies to monitor your site navigation. Some of the cookies are shared by sites, so cross-navigation browsing is determinable. That's valuable data for advertisers, among others.
The end-game idea, Kovacs says, is to eventually launch Collusion on a grand scale, allowing users to opt-in and share their tracking data anonymously to a database, one which will be accessible to researchers and others for study and analysis. The idea is, if we can understand who is tracking us and how, we can find better ways to bypass it.
"The memory of the internet is forever," Kovacs said. "We are being watched. It's now time for us to watch the watchers."
You can download the browser add-on today at Mozilla's web site.
Image: James Duncan Davidson/TED