Cookies, Ghostery, and Online Privacy


You can buy these thingies on etsy.

First off this post is NOT for those buying and creating online display ads everyday. You already know this.

The buying and tracking of display banner ads is akin to stock trading with millions of dollars being made on penny clicks. If you want to deep dive and understand I suggest you begin with the LUMAscapes over at Luma Partners. If you go there… welcome to the matrix and the tangled web.

This post is for folks curious how the technology of online display advertising works which also leads to a richer understanding of online privacy.

To get started you need to know about the Ghostery plugin for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, IE, and Opera. This plugin gives real-time information for every cookie, tracking software, or tracking company used on that particular page. It reveals what ad networks, data providers, analytic tools, and demand side platforms are used. Initially the pop-up is a bit annoying, however I’ve found it quite useful and have grown accustomed to it. When surfing around I want to know what’s going on underneath the hood. You do have the ability to turn it off. The screenshot below is an example of the pop-up. Notice the red arrows.


For people concerned about online privacy Ghostery allows you to become invisible (get it- a ghost) by turning off these technologies in your browser. You can “go rogue” and see the web as it would be unfiltered.

Maybe you don’t want to turn everything off. Maybe you’re annoyed with a banner ad for a company that seems to be foolishly retargeting you all over the internet. It seems like they’re stalking you. Ghostery will help you identify who this and then you can block that cookie or script.

I have also found the Ghostery tool useful for the following two ways-


doubleclickYou can select to find out about each technology Ghostery has uncovered. To the left is an example of the background information on DoubleClick. Notice in the drop downs it reveals the privacy policy for DoubleClick and supplies the Privacy Contact. Ghostery does this for each technology. I have found by clicking on these companies and the ones I don’t know I began to learn about trending and innovative marketing technologies on the web.

Competitive Intelligence

As we know we need to hammer into our kids nothing you put on the internet is private. Same goes for marketers.

You can freely “spy” with this tool on your competitors to see what technologies and networks they are using in their website and internet efforts.

Ghostery and Evidon

So what is Ghostery? Ghostery is a tool given about by Evidon. Taken from the Ghostery site

Evidon is a technology company that provides solutions for consumers, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that enable them to see, understand and control data online. For businesses and NGOs, Evidon provides the technological underpinnings that put the AdChoices icon, which functions as a “tracking nutrition label” into ads, as well as reports on trackers and what they are doing on the web. For consumers, we provide Ghostery. Evidon is able to support Ghostery through our users who choose to opt into the anonymous Ghostrank panel, which allows us to make tracker reports and helps to provide organizations like the Better Business Bureau with information that helps them enforce self-regulation. Our mission, as a company, is to make the web more transparent for everyone involved. We strongly believe that making disclosure more transparent will raise the quality of the entire online advertising industry by enabling advertisers to grow and innovate with privacy in mind.

What Evidon is not:

  • Evidon is not an advertising network or behavioral data collection service.

  • Evidon doesn’t work to allow advertisers to be more invasive.

adchoicesEvidon gives companies a common and standard way to become transparent. When you surf around the internet and see an ad that has the Ad Choices logo it’s likely to have been implemented through a technology from Evidon. Clicking this little logo allows you to opt out right there to be tracked via that ad. Doing this adheres to most companies’ privacy policy and then allows them to have the nice privacy policy in the footer that all legal departments love and require.

So what about Online Privacy?

Ghostery and Evidon have online privacy pretty well figured out and standardized. They have given power to the user, and the marketers with the platform, to turn tracking software on or off. It is a bit technical and there are many features to it but it beats the blanket-approach alternative.

My elitist statement of the blog is users need to become better educated with the tools they are using. I’ll use the same metaphor as parenting again. You need to know what technologies your kids are using along with what’s being used to track them.

And what is the blanket-approach alternative? Europe. Most European countries require all cookies to be turned off. In order to use them  a user has to opt in.

It’s interesting. I’m a Net Neutrality supporter. I don’t think there should be a “fast lane” for certain providers and publishers and I’m a what you would call an “Open Source Guy”. I’m inspired and invigorated by the possibilities of the open web. I’ll romanticize the Arab Spring with any techie. Judging from this you may think I’d be an online privacy policeman and support anything that turns off tracking technologies. Quite the opposite.

I rather give this power to users as Ghostery does instead of legislators who don’t understand the digital space. I also think we forget these tools and websites we use every day like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are FREE! Sustainability and research for publishers and search engines needs to come from some place. Subscription models are very hard to implement and advertising can massively scale easily.

These technologies assist the marketers and provide value to the user. If we adopt in the US a blanket turn off of cookies, which there is a movement for, we’ll see blanket ads that have no applicability to us. I could be surfing and could be served an ad for Tampax. The advertiser is throwing their money away and I am annoyed. Marketers who are respectful of privacy and digital social mores like “don’t stalk” and “don’t be a jerk by continuously retargeting” will empower the web and allow for the existence of publishers of the free content and resources we’ve grown so accustomed to.

In the words of the great Alan Watts – “Pay Attention!”

Ghostery will help get you there.

Everything written here are the views of Tim Aten and Tim Aten only. They have no relation, nor are they the views of any of my employers past or present.


  1. very informative Tim; i’m all in with you on this one. as they say ‘when something is free, you’re the product’…


  1. […] The Warby Parker Facebook ads paired with a pixel on their site led to a conversion. For success in business-to-consumer models it’s crucial to employ retargeting and use social channels to identify potential customers. The days of buying blanketed spots are over, one must identify and target the audience. Buy the audience, not the spot. All marketers need to understand the pixel and how it works. Ghostery is a great tool for this and explored in my post Cookies, Ghostery and Online Privacy. […]

  2. […] You are being marketed to at all times. Learn about this at Cookies, Ghostery, and Online Privacy. […]

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