Online privacy and security have become major concerns for internet users today. We routinely share personal information and browsing data online, often without realizing it. This data can potentially be collected, analyzed and monetized by third parties without our knowledge or consent. One software that promises to give control back to users is Ghostery. But an important question remains – does Ghostery itself collect and sell user data? Let’s explore this issue in detail.
What is Ghostery?
Ghostery is a web browser extension available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera browsers. It functions as an ad blocker, tracking blocker and anti-privacy solution. Ghostery detects and blocks web trackers, ads, widgets and beacons that can otherwise monitor your online activity across websites. This prevents companies from building detailed browsing histories and user profiles.
Ghostery tracks over 2000+ trackers and offers different blocking options based on your preferences. You can block trackers selectively or take an all-or-nothing approach. Ghostery also provides useful privacy tips and information about the trackers to help you make informed choices.
Does Ghostery share or sell your data?
This is the key question that determines how private and secure Ghostery actually is. Afterall, an anti-tracking software that itself tracks users defeats the whole purpose.
According to Ghostery’s FAQ page, the company does not sell or share any collected data with third parties.
However, Ghostery has not always had a straight-forward, transparent business model. In the past, Ghostery did engage in some controversial practices that involved sharing user data.
Ghostery’s “GhostRank” Feature
Earlier versions of Ghostery contained a feature called GhostRank that was enabled by default when users installed the extension.
GhostRank took note of all the ads and trackers encountered and blocked by Ghostery on a user’s browser. This tracking data was then sent back to Ghostery servers.
Ghostery would then compile these crowdsourced lists of blocked ad trackers. The company provided this information for free to advertisers and websites using a dashboard.
The idea was to show companies which of their ads were being blocked by users so they could modify their ads to become less intrusive and avoid further blocking. This would result in a better user experience.
However, the flip side was that advertisers could potentially use this information to find loopholes and serve more malicious ads that evade Ghostery’s blocking.
Ghostery’s Ad Business Model
Ghostery earned revenues primarily by selling anonymized tracker data to enterprise customers wanting competitive intelligence. The exact details of deals with third parties were not publicly disclosed.
Naturally, the lack of transparency raised many concerns over privacy and ethics. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published a scathing report in 2013 criticizing Ghostery’s business model.
Selling Off Ghostery’s Plug-in Business
In response to mounting criticism, Ghostery made some changes like making GhostRank opt-in instead of default.
But eventually in 2017, Ghostery sold off its entire browser extension business, including the Ghostery plugin, to a German browser company Cliqz. This marked Ghostery’s exit from the consumer browser extension space.
Ghostery’s Current Business Model
Since 2018, Ghostery has gone open source and pivoted to focus entirely on enterprise website compliance and auditing products.
Ghostery now offers two main software as a service (SaaS) solutions:
- Ghostery Insights – Helps companies monitor and control how consumer data flows through their websites and apps. This is done by auditing tags, pixels and trackers.
- Ghostery Midnight – A privacy compliance suite for systematic enforcement of privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA within large enterprises.
The key shift is that now Ghostery exclusively sells software services to other businesses rather than monetizing consumer data. Ghostery asserts it no longer has any need or incentive to collect and share user data.
Is Ghostery Safe to Use in 2023?
Ghostery’s rocky history makes it difficult to view the company’s current claims at face value. However, here are some positive signs regarding Ghostery’s security practices today:
- Open source code – Ghostery’s browser extension code is publicly available for scrutiny under the Mozilla Public License 2.0.
- No more data collection – Ghostery extensions no longer collect browsing data and have no GhostRank-like features.
- Independent audits – A few independent security researchers have audited Ghostery’s code and found no malicious activity or data leaks.
- New business model – Shifting focus to enterprise services means Ghostery now aligns incentives with user privacy rather than monetizing data.
So in summary – while Ghostery does not currently sell user data, it has had a complicated history in this regard. However, recent positive changes to their business model suggest the software is reasonably safe to use now. But ultimately, each internet user must decide for themselves whether Ghostery can be trusted.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does Ghostery see my browsing history?
No, the current version of Ghostery does not monitor, collect or view any browsing history or personal data from users.
Can I use Ghostery for free?
Yes, Ghostery’s browser extensions are entirely free for personal, non-commercial use. Ghostery’s paid services are only for enterprise customers.
Is Ghostery better than other ad blockers?
Ghostery blocks a wider range of trackers beyond just ads, so it provides more privacy protection. However, popular ad blockers like uBlock Origin are also trusted software with open source code.
What are the alternatives to Ghostery?
Some popular alternatives are Privacy Badger, Disconnect, uBlock Origin, AdBlock Plus and Brave Browser. As with any software, it’s recommended that users do their own research before installing.
Will Ghostery slow down my browser?
There may be a minor performance hit as Ghostery blocks network requests in the background. But this impact is trivial for most modern hardware. Proper configuration can optimize Ghostery’s blocking effects.
Online privacy is a contentious issue with no perfect solutions yet. While Ghostery itself may have been controversial in the past, the software appears to be making genuine efforts to reform their practices. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide if Ghostery can be trusted again. But users are advised to be cautious and always think critically before sharing personal data online, no matter what privacy tools are used.