Ghostery Manifesto

As the makers of Ghostery, we’ve always operated with the motto of Tracking the Trackers. Our mission is to augment the browsing experience to make the web transparent, fast and private for everyone. We’ve come a long way from our origin. To understand Ghostery’s role in the web today and why we’re developing our products, we need to discuss how the context of the internet itself is changing.

For many of our users, the Ghostery Extension is the first tool installed on their browser, acting as a companion to protect their privacy anytime they’re on the web. It is also a tool they recommend to loved ones to ensure their safety online. Our iconic little blue ghost reminds us all that some websites do not deserve our trust, as they trade our personal information and use it as a product. However we look at Ghostery, it is a constant in our online lives, always keeping watch on the trackers behind the websites we visit.

Over the years we have gathered the knowledge to understand the complex and obscure machinery that runs the tracking ecosystem. And even though we know that some trackers act in good will, Ghostery believes that any collection of user data that is not understood and agreed upon should not exist. Data collection at the moment is excessive and it fuels a market where user profiles are bought and sold turning a blind eye on the loss of user’s privacy.

At Ghostery, we track the trackers to expose who collects, processes, and sells user data. By doing this, we empower our users to care about their online privacy and simply allow them to say NO to all user tracking.

Since 2009, Ghostery has brought transparency to the web by exposing all hidden agents behind visible website content - ad networks, trackers, analytics and others - building up the world’s largest tracker database: WhoTracks.Me.

WhoTracks.Me methodology

When we browse the internet, each page we visit carries invisible scripts that gather information about what we look at, how we interact with the content, and even what we do after we leave that page. This information is usually transmitted to many different companies that use the data to build profiles of every one of us and track us across the web.

The Ghostery Browser Extension detects whenever this happens. We give users the power to block or neutralize trackers. The information on trackers gets reported and published on the WhoTracks.Me website and is used to refine Ghostery’s algorithms. This improves the privacy and protection we offer to all our users.

Ghostery uses WhoTracks.Me to gather information about trackers, search engines included. This is achieved without including any information about the user affected by the tracker.

WhoTracks.Me has become one of the most comprehensive global resources on trackers operating on the world’s most popular websites.

Search engines play a key role in online tracking: companies who know our search queries can quickly learn how we make decisions and use that knowledge to influence these decisions further. When this occurs, there is no such thing as universal, unbiased search, and no possibility for true privacy.

Ghostery aims to minimize our users’ digital footprint on search engines. When a non-private search engine is used, we do our best to reduce the information leakage. The choice of the search engine is a personal decision, but we always ensure that users’ data is protected. The Ghostery Browser Extension displays detected tracker data via the WhoTracks.Me Tracker Wheel, next to search engine results. It informs about trackers present on a website before clicking on it. Furthermore, we prevent non-private search engines from tracking your click on the search engine result page. Such tracking gets reported to WhoTracks.Me.

Due to the severity of tracking by search, we have decided to launch our own private search engine, Ghostery Glow. We are committed to improve Glow as an effective resource for all in the fight for online privacy.

This is how we’re protecting users’ privacy at Ghostery by tracking the trackers. By choosing Ghostery, you’re further empowering WhoTracks.Me, so trackers cannot hide in the shadows anymore.

The web’s future is here and now

It is easy to see why many people say that the web is broken when looking at the dozens of trackers lurking behind the websites we visit. When asking ourselves and our users what we would feel comfortable with, the answer is always the same: the collection of user data which is not understood and agreed upon should not exist. Millions of internet users are participating in a transaction they don’t realize is occurring. Ghostery puts a stop to hidden tracking. When companies try to breach your privacy, you can be sure they will be tracked by us and you will be in power to block them!

Blocking based on block lists is a simple and quite effective tool to improve privacy on the web. However, some trackers escape these block lists. Some use short lived domains, irregular url patterns and other sophisticated trickery. Other trackers are good actors which by error or oversight, leak our private information. Both types are impossible to avoid using block lists alone.

Ghostery found a way to overcome this in 2017 when we’ve added AI capabilities to WhoTracks.Me. For web requests that cannot be blocked because the site will break, WhoTracks.Me allows Ghostery to detect parameters that could be used as individual identifiers and replace them before the data leaves the browser. On the tracker’s side, everything seems normal since the request wasn’t blocked; the request was sent, but no user identifiable data was shared. WhoTracks.Me can even replace those unique identifiers with random values, making the data not only unusable to the trackers but creates confusion that helps protect Ghostery users. A single user looks like a thousand, so a single user can no longer be identified.

It’s important to mention that we at Ghostery do not believe online advertising is an enemy of the web. Advertising in its nature is about helping businesses reach their potential clients. For users, the fact that companies use ads may be help create better content at a cheaper price (of course intrusive ads are one of many exceptions to that). It is the tracking that needs eradication. Therefore, Ghostery prefers to remain impartial and does not block most third-party content by default. We provide individual tracker blocker control and transparency so that the decision is in our users’ hands. If you want to support your favorite content creator by allowing ads on their site, it is as simple as flipping a switch.

Ghostery Privacy Suite

Ghostery provides several applications that work together to ensure optimal privacy protection. Meet the Ghostery Privacy Suite:

  • Ghostery Browser Extension - A fundamental piece of technology that started Ghostery and drives its mission to improve web privacy. It’s a powerful browser extension that gives users the choice to block ads and trackers, or to improve the browsing experience by hiding annoyances such as cookie notices and distracting banners. Ghostery can either notify users about trackers it finds or silently block them in the background, so you don’t have to worry about them.
  • Ghostery Insights - A powerful tracker analytics tool in the form of a browser extension. Essential in the toolkit of every auditor, performance analyst or web developer, Insights displays how trackers and other web requests affect website performance in real-time.
  • Ghostery Glow - A private search engine powered by WhoTracks.Me is a simple and fast search engine able to show statistical information about website trackers directly on the results page. Our role is to make certain that search providers know nothing about your search queries.
  • Ghostery Dawn - A privacy-focused web browser. Packed with the Ghostery Privacy Suite, Dawn allows its users to experience a transparent, fast, and private web experience. Because search is a key factor in one’s privacy, Glow is built in. If users would like, we offer other search engine options to choose from.
  • Ghostery Privacy Digest - A informational and educational resource in the form of biweekly newsletter. Curated by the Ghostery team, it features trustworthy sources, helping to sharpen awareness and build knowledge on all aspects of privacy.

How does Ghostery make money?

To fulfill its mission, Ghostery needs resources. Here is how we make money:

  • Private Sponsored Links - These are a form of in-product advertising or affiliate links that are not user targeted and do not involve any tracking. Ghostery Glow offers prime real estate for Private Sponsored Links as it offers a natural context, the search query. Ghostery seeks partnership with advertisers willing to reach a privacy-conscious audience.
  • Search Engine Partnerships - Ads on a search engine result page are a powerful marketing tool. As long as they are not personalized, but only selected based on the query, ads pose no threat to web privacy. Ghostery partners with search engines that respect privacy and receives a small revenue share from them.
  • Subscriptions - We have recurring revenue generated from our annual and monthly subscribers. In return, they get unlimited access to premium features such as Ghostery Insights.
  • By supporting businesses, journalists and academic institutions - WhoTracks.Me may be useful for other businesses that respect users’ privacy. For example, information from search engines such as the list of results for a given query can be useful in improving search index quality. The WhoTracks.Me methodology guarantees that information can never be linked to any user. Ever. Only with these guarantees in place, information can be shared.

A vision of mutual respect

Given the growing popularity of ad blockers and increasing awareness for digital privacy, it’s realistic to believe in a future where businesses do not have to resort to tracking to make a living. Even though Ghostery enables the blocking of trackers and ads, it also envisions a future where distinct web platforms are able to support themselves without violating users’ privacy. The near-future web will likely still be sponsored by advertisements, but hopefully privacy-respecting advertisement. As such solutions have already emerged in recent years, it is likely that Ghostery will join one or more of such initiatives to show its support and respect to content creators world-wide.