Mozilla looks to shed light on OBA to prevent ‘erosion of trust’

Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox web browser, has launched an online data-tracking tool to help online audiences better understand how advertisers hone their targeting capabilities by collecting data about them via their web surfing habits.  

The service, dubbed Lightbeam for Firefox, is a web browser add-on that lets Firefox users understand which third-party web companies are collecting data about them based on what websites they have visited, and has been launched to improve transparency over how free-to-access websites are funded. 

Lightbeam was formally unveiled this weekend to coincide with the annual Mozilla Festival, and once downloaded it creates a record of sites visited by an user, plus every third-party gathering data on them, that is then stored locally on their Firefox browser. 

Lightbeam then compiles these events to highlight the interactions between websites a user intentionally visits, as well as the third-party sites they visit unintentionally – but still track their behaviour. This is then represented to the user in a graphical format (see video).  

Alex Flowler, Mozilla’s global privacy and public policy leader, says the service has been launched to help solve challenges posed by transparency issues around online behavioural advertising (OBA), particularly how consumers are profiled by third parties. 

He says: “The diverse range of third-party companies are an integral part of the way the internet works today. However, when we’re unable to understand the value these companies provide and make informed choices about their data collection practices, the result is a steady erosion of trust for all stakeholders.”

He goes on to describe Lightbeam as a: “Wizard of Oz moment, to kind of see the behind the scenes true functioning of how the web operates.” 

A recent report by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) claimed more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of registered companies in the OBA sector may be in breach of transparency guidelines, in a report that identified a number of concerns over the retargeting method, including poor consumer awareness.