Hi reddit!

We are the Mozilla team who have been working on Lightbeam for Firefox. We're here at the Mozilla Festival in London (www.mozillafestival.org) where we just launched Lightbeam for Firefox.

Lightbeam for Firefox is an add-on which aims to educate users about privacy on the web by creating an interactive visualization of what third party sites are loaded by the sites you visit, in real-time.

You can download it here: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/lightbeam/

Mozilla is a global non-profit community of technologists, thinkers and builders, working together to keep the Internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the Web. We're best known as the creators of the web browser Firefox.

We've been here at MozFest all weekend brainstorming and hacking the tech and curriculum to help educate users about what privacy on the web means. We're happy to take your questions on all things privacy, user data, Lightbeam, Mozilla, MozFest and more.

Our usernames are


Ask us anything.

Helpful links:

Lightbeam for Firefox: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/lightbeam/

Blog post on Lightbeam and Privacy: https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2013/10/25/lightbeam-for-firefox-privacy-education-for-users-open-data-for-publishers/

Blog post about why we care about privacy: https://blog.mozilla.org/privacy/2013/10/23/were-more-than-the-sum-of-our-data/

More about why Mozilla cares about privacy: https://mozilla.org/privacy

More about Mozilla in general: https://www.mozilla.org/mission

OUR PROOF https://twitter.com/mozilla/status/394503194161999873

Watch us participating LIVE in this AMA from MozFest on Air Mozilla: https://air.mozilla.org/lightbeam

That's a wrap!

Thank you all so much for taking the time to come ask us questions. We have to get back for the MozFest demo night, but if you want to help out or get involved in our work, go to http://www.mozilla.org/contribute/

The Lightbeam team will continue to come back and answer questions over the next week.

Comments: 889 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

EyeHamKnotYew521 karma

No question, just want to thank you for your service!

ericita22171 karma

Thank you!

IamTheFreshmaker247 karma

Here is the original TED talk about Collusion and the reason I installed it. And subsequently the reason I got completely freaked out about how much tracking is done. If you have kids, there's a part in this talk that will curl your toes.


ericita2264 karma

Thanks for posting!

maxw3st198 karma

I use Ghostery, which blocks tons of trackers, and tells me who is tracking. Is this something different?

Dethe243 karma

Yes, Lightbeam is different. It is more of an educational tool about visualizing third party sites that get loaded, and does not block anything by default.

axitkhurana37 karma

Does it/will it have an option to block trackers?

Dethe50 karma

It does have an option to block domains, if you feel that they are trackers. Lightbeam does not do any block anything, but in the List View you can choose to block a domain. Be careful with this feature though, because you will prevent all traffic to that site from Firefox (until/unless you unblock it).

pseudolobster23 karma

Is there a specific reason to not block anything?

I mean, it seems your offers in the way of user privacy have come off as soft. This, the do-not-track setting being disabled by default, etc.

Is this in part due to pressure from donators? Are you worried a strong pro-user stance on these things would drive away a lot of your corporate sponsors?

alexfowler38 karma

Lightbeam provides an option under the List view to either place a domain on a watch list or block it outright. We believe this is part of the educational value of the add-on to provide users with a way to play with and better understand the role of the companies they are interacting with on the Web.

corporatemonkey184 karma

Maybe offtopic in regards to Lightbeam, but just wanted to say there are a lot of us who love & use Thunderbird. Please make sure your foundation continues to support it.

alexfowler118 karma

Yes! I'm a loyal Thunderbird user, too. It's been great to see our community continuing to support the program.

ericita2246 karma

Yup -- will do.

anonymous123421166 karma

Please ask the people sitting in the audience to do the wave.

edit: Nicely done!

alinah106 karma


[deleted]144 karma


ericita2296 karma

Thanks -- that means a lot to us.

EvilShallWin130 karma

No idea how this hasn't been seen yet, but... erm, the webpage title for Lightbeam is spelled "Ligthbeam" and not "Lightbeam"...

Did anyone else notice this or no?

ericita2290 karma

derp -- can you tell us where exactly so we can fix it?

blaze8885 karma

Could you explain this from a non-techie perspective? The idea sounds great but what am I supposed to do with the information?

Thanks for your work!

Dethe96 karma

When you visit a site in your browser, that site may load content from many other domains, which is basically invisible to you. Lightbeam lets you see those interconnections by visualizing all of the connections between different sites.

What you can do with the information is up to you, but one of the best things you can do is to share your connection data (we save very little about the connection, and attempt to strip all personal information away) to help us build an open, public database of third party connections to help further privacy research, and support tech/policy decisions. You can also use Lightbeam to watch sites (they will be displayed differently in the visualizations), hide sites (if you don't want them to show in visualizations), and block sites (the browser will no longer load any content from that site).

bencordoza62 karma

My browser icon is jumping up and down, I know it's because I'm on a mac, but I like to think it is because of this AMA.

ericita2249 karma

We'd like to think so too...

rburp47 karma

I just want to tell you that here at the computer repair store I work at we install Firefox with Adblock on every computer that comes through and most users love it. It's probably been over 15,000 computers. I'd like to thank you and the rest of Mozilla for the awesome work you do.

ericita2230 karma

Thank you! It's people like you who keep our work alive.

jsinge40 karma

How has this product been received by corporations and countries?

alexfowler49 karma

We spent a ton of time working with online publishers in developing Lightbeam. The prevalence of non­transparent online tracking continues to grow year over year. A recent study by the company Evidon, which produces the Ghostery add-on, showed a 53 percent increase in trackers from the prior year. Only 45 percent of the tracking tags identified by Evidon were placed there by the publisher of the site. So we have a goal to develop a crowdsourced open database from users of Lightbeam (on an opt-in basis), which we plan to make available to publishers to understand how third party services, widgets, ad tech, etc. are performing on their sites.

TannerMoz38 karma

Will any of you be joining me and ~30 other Mozillians on Tuesday for our community-wide AMA? :)

ericita2232 karma

We sure will!

hajj_337 karma

been using firefox for 10yrs, just want to say thanks. p.s please create a minimise to tray icon setting for thunderbird without me having to install an add-on.

ericita2250 karma

We'll pass that on to the Thunderbird team.

HiMyNameIsDilbert28 karma

With lightbeam will i be able to keep all my fetishes hidden from targeted advertising? (I use ghostry but asain girls be all up in my area still)

Dethe45 karma

No, this is not really what Lightbeam is for.

ImNotJesus20 karma


alexfowler39 karma

We have a nice group of folks here who use Firefox. How would you respond?

Colthy18 karma

Why are you all so damn handsome?

ericita2246 karma

It's just a byproduct of being so dedicated to keeping the internet awesome :)

Tananar9 karma

All the Mozilla contributors I've met are pretty attractive...

ericita2258 karma

Looking good is a part of our code....

Foggalong15 karma

I've used Lightbeam (and Collusion before it) and love it as an idea but the vast amount of trackers it finds really slows my browser down. Is there any way to stop this happening? Other than that, keep up the great work!

Dethe21 karma

That was a big part of what we're trying to address in this release. We rewrote big parts of the graph rendering and provide filters to reduce how many nodes get rendered.

It is still slow to switch from one visualization to another if you have a lot of data, which we'll be working on speeding up. There are other performance improvements we want to make, but it's already a lot faster than it was.

If you're still seeing it really slow down your browser, you can also file a bug and we'll look into it.

roadhand5 karma

I experienced the same lag as /u/Foggalong with Collusion and am currently using Lightbeam. Any evidence that use alongside Ghostery might be causing this?

Dethe7 karma

It could depend on a lot of factors: speed of your computer, version of Firefox, what other add-ons you have installed, and how much Lightbeam data you have collected.

Mattenburg12 karma


What is your favourite movie?

alexfowler17 karma

Sneakers & War Games

Dethe11 karma

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Harold and Maude

ericita2218 karma

I kind of love 28 Days Later...

jsinge10 karma

Could you check out our coding efforts at appsforaptitude.org? It would mean the world to us high school programmers. Thanks!

alinah12 karma

We'd love to learn more about your work. We will certainly look at your site soon, but please tell us more about what you do. Thanks!

Herecomethedrums8 karma

Is there something like this extension but for google chrome?

alexfowler21 karma

Great question. When we launched the original version of Lightbeam, which was called Collusion, members of our community grabbed the code from Github and created versions for Safari and Chrome. We're hoping the same thing happens again. Here's the link to where all the Lightbeam code is online: https://github.com/mozilla/lightbeam

drumcowski8 karma

Lightbeam is great! I've had it for a few days, but now my Graph is massive and a tad hard to inspect due to how large each circle and triangle are (they overlap quite a bit). Have you guys considered adding a scale slider so that I can shrink the size of the shapes? I know I could just clear the data or switch to the list...but I love being able to look at my massive graph and being able to see all of the connections, it's just really cluttered once it reaches a certain size.

mmmavis7 karma

Thanks for your suggestion. We can tweak the scale and animation to fix the overlapping problems. If you just want to zoom in/out the Graph or Clock visualization, you can scroll up/down to change the zoom factor. If you are on Graph, you can also try to use the Filter setting(from the Toggle Controls section at the bottom) to reduce the number of the sites shown on the visualization.

bro-away-8 karma

Who keeps coming up with all of these excellent and free projects from Mozilla?

Like, how do you just get a team to make a free product? Is there a cost justification that has to be done? I can see how this makes the Firefox better, but the path to making money on something like Rustlang is probably a lot less clear. Explain yourselves!

ericita2210 karma

As an open-source, community-driven, non-profit project, it's a part of our mission to give voice to new projects that are on the edges, and to help keep the internet open, free, innovative, and made by people.

Our mission is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web. So while we strive for excellence with our products like Firefox, we measure success ultimately by how well we're championing a web that's open, interoperable, and user-driven.

[deleted]8 karma

lightbeam doesn't appear to show any nsa spying, just a bunch of cookies.

ericita2213 karma

Yup -- that's right: Because it operates within the browser, Lightbeam doesn't have the ability to to monitor tracking that goes on behind the scenes---stuff like advertisers that monitor data from server to server, or even government subpoenas (like the NSA).

[deleted]7 karma

Hey guys i don't have a question but instead a thank you. I am truly thankful for heroes out there like yourselves fighting and working for whats right. keep up the great work.

ericita226 karma

Thank you!

jeremy_rouse6 karma

Was there a specific event that made y'all wanna creat This?!

ixscribble9 karma

There wasn't a specific event but the inspiration came from a book called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser that inspired Mozilla software developer Atul Varma to begin this project.

[deleted]5 karma


ericita2213 karma

I might be biased because I work here, but I love using an open source, community-built portal to access the web, especially when it cares so deeply about privacy.

MrDrumzOrz5 karma

What's your favourite browser besides Firefox?

Dethe6 karma

As a long-time web developer, I lots of different browsers. I like Chrome for a lot of things, even though I use Firefox as my main browser.

poplols1235 karma

Question and not a question.

My Question: Will Lightbeam be available for Mobile FireFox?

Thanks for firefox, just discovered it is awesome again. Stopped using it after the UI change. Back to using it, it is amazing!

Dethe3 karma

Lightbeam is fairly demanding both of processing and data storage, not so bad on desktop, but not really appropriate on mobile. We would also have to completely rework the UI. There have been a lot of requests for this, but for the reasons above it is not really on our roadmap right now.

bomberlol5 karma

Does a similar extension exist for chrome?

alexfowler16 karma

See above. All the code is available online: https://github.com/mozilla/lightbeam

valiant_try5 karma

How do you plan to publicize this tool? More people should be aware!

ericita223 karma

We're sharing as much as we can over our channels---but are always happy for the help. Also: this weekend we're using MozFest as a chance to build curriculum and more tech to educate users about privacy -- there's a lot more we can do to use tools like Lightbeam to educate people about how the web works, especially the parts that aren't immediately visible to the average user.

Caffehead4 karma

Hi. First of all I'd like to say how much I respect Mozilla for creating all this amazing software. Thank you.

Then to the actual question: How does Lightbeam differ from tools like DoNotTrackMe or Ghostery? (Yes, I know that Ghostery sells data about users but I just used that as an example)

alexfowler10 karma

There are a number of add-ons for Firefox that are focused on privacy and security, including Ghostery, DoNotTrackMe, Disconnect.me, etc. This is one way the larger community has tested and developed a number of innovative approaches to enhancing user control on the Web. However, most of these tools have focused on expert users or users who already have strongly held values on privacy. Our goal with Lightbeam is to bring this conversation to a much wider audience.

ericita223 karma

Hi guys -- we'll only be answering questions for another few minutes! But we promise to check back in over the next few days to answer questions as a follow-up.

meyer19943 karma

You guys had the idea before or after the NSA scandal?

alexfowler3 karma

The idea for this project came long before the Snowden revelations.

IamTheFreshmaker3 karma

I remember reading about the proof of concept of the evercookie- the one that recreates itself even if you clear your cookies. Have you found any sites that are using that technology?

Dethe3 karma

We show all third-party sites, regardless of whether they use cookies or not, although there is an option to highlight connections that use cookies. There are many types of tracking out there, which the Ghostery research blog goes over in great detail (https://purplebox.ghostery.com/?cat=86), if you're interested in learning more about it. We don't specifically look at that at this point, though.

[deleted]3 karma


ericita224 karma

Hi! It is up and running, and is 100% free to use and download. https://www.mozilla.org/lightbeam

ixscribble3 karma

HELLO! Yup, Lightbeam is released and up and running. You can download it here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/lightbeam/ . It is free. Mozilla software developer, Atul Varma, who began this project in July 2011 was inspired by the book called The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. It isn't complicated to use and it continuously updates the visualization you choose. Awesome, I hope you enjoy using Firefox and Lightbeam!

5a6f2 karma

  • Unlike most of reddit I actually work in this industry.

You do know that legitimate web masters user legitimate non-invasive tracking to optimize their site, right? You do know that this privacy back lash is hurting those legitimate companies, and their small time web masters, right?

Big Money web sites will always find a way to track you.

Mozilla is starting an arms race you will never win. A site could easily just host the JS from their site and it won't appear to be 3rd party. Where is your god now?

People don't realize that some of these privacy addons are breaking their user experience, doing silent updates, and so on.

I don't think you're doing anyone any favors and just reaping easy karma. Just like the great cookie scare of 1999. If anything you're going to make the situation worse, and you know this, which makes you even less of a saint.

alexfowler1 karma

Lightbeam doesn't make any value judgment on "tracking." It simply provides info to users on how the Web works and the role of first and third parties in shaping our online experiences.

Users are very concerned about their privacy and now how their data is collected, used and shared. New surveys and studies are published every month that consistently show the same results. As an organization that creates products and services responsive to our users' needs and interests, I believe we have a duty to work on improving privacy, trust, data safety and security. Deciding what we should do, where to begin, what will move the needle, however, are more complex questions for us to figure out. I think many of the current privacy-related add-ons have approached solutions with a broad brush, assuming large parts of the Web are untrusted and working against people, and then essentially turning them off for their users. I think we need to do more than tell people who care about privacy that they deserve a degraded Web.

Lightbeam has as one of its objectives the development of an open database of connection data, aggregating data from users of the add-on to create a global view of the relationships between first and third party sites on the Web. Users who opt-in to sharing their graphs with Mozilla will be helping to develop a resource that we hope will lead to more refined, targeted solutions in the future.

Adys2 karma

Hi from Mozfest!

Why the rebranding of collusion? Is it a new project?

alexfowler7 karma

The project is still the same, which has been supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. We renamed the add-on to Lightbeam with these release as a way to expand the audience, including young people just now coming online and learning about how the Web works. We wanted a more playful, engaging and accessible name. So far the reaction has been super positive.

DerpsTheName1 karma

When did you start working on the project?

Do you expect any retaliation from companies/government organizations in response to this?

Is this really reliable and secure?

alexfowler3 karma

We provided a bunch of info on the history of the project. We don't expect any retaliation for helping people become better informed users of the Web. That's crucial for all the companies working online. A number of publishers and trade groups provided input during the development of this version of the add-on. In terms of reliability and security, the work is open source and the code is on Github for review by anyone. We welcome your participation!

netpoints1 karma

  • What is the difference between this and say..the Ghostery add-on for Firefox.

  • Also - won't this piss off advertisers? If so - why not include an ad-blocking add-in inherently in your browser. You will prevent probably millions of dollars of damage to people's computers that go to a malicious sites by accident.

alexfowler2 karma

We've had a number of questions about Ghostery. The main difference here is Lightbeam is an educational/awareness tool aimed at building a real-time visualization of the connections being made by sites and the third parties on those sites.

We don't think Lightbeam is going to piss anyone off except perhaps companies that believe they require secrecy to exist. We've engaged with lots of legitimate third party companies and trade groups who believe transparency is of vital importance to their businesses and sustainability of their industry. It's worth pointing out that if you look at the issue of first parties and third parties from the perspective of the browser, these are just technical requests being processed to build a Web page. Lightbeam actually has the potential to help the diversity of ad tech companies create more transparency for the value they create online. To the extent they have input on other visualizations and uses of the Lightbeam crowdsourced open data, we are eager to get them involved.