Ghostery Sneaks in New Promotional Messaging System

A privacy add-on that also includes a built in ad delivery feature? What will they think of next?

Ghostery is a rather controversial privacy add-on for various web browsers including Firefox and Google Chrome. The extension has been designed to improve online privacy by blocking trackers. Apart from that, it also informs you about trackers used on sites if you want it to, or, if you prefer that, it will block these automatically without notifying you about occurrences.

Ghostery ships with lists that you can subscribe to which block certain types of trackers, for instance advertising, privacy or widgets.

While it may not block ads on the web, it reduces tracking by blocking certain kinds of trackers on sites you visit.

The most recent update to Ghostery 5.4.6 for Chrome, Safari, Opera and Firefox introduces two new options to the browser extension that add to the controversial nature of Ghostery.

The first introduces a messaging tool, Ghostery calls it Consumer Messaging Platform, which allows the company to message users directly in the web browser.

According to Ghostery, it will be used for product announcements and promotions. What makes this problematic is that it is enabled by default.

If you have updated to the new Ghostery version already you are automatically opted-in, and if you install Ghostery anew in a browser, you are opted-in as well.

ghostery promotions opt-out

To disable this feature, do the following:

  • Open the Ghostery options in the browser you are using. In Chrome, you right-click on the icon and select options, in Firefox you open about:addons and click on options next to the Ghostery entry there.
  • Switch to the Advanced tab on the options page and uncheck “Allow Ghostery to show messages in my browser related to product features, updates, and promotions”.
  • Make sure you click save at the bottom of the screen as the modification won’t stick otherwise.

The second new feature is a survey that is automatically opened when Ghostery is installed. Existing users find a survey link at the top of the options page.

This survey asks for personal information such as employment status, location, age or gender.

Closing Words

Ghostery does not seem to have used the feature yet to notify users but it is probably only a matter of time until the first message is sent out to users who have the extension installed.

The main issue here is that this feature is opt-out meaning it is enabled for all users of the extension. Since users are not informed about this when they run the extension, the only way they can find out about the new feature is by stumbling upon it in the options, reading the blog post on the Ghostery website, or reading about it on third-party websites.

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