Ghostery uses plugin data to power new enterprise marketing suite

About 40 million people around the world have downloaded a free browser plugin called Ghostery that tells them which hidden bits of a webpage are secretly tracking them, and helps block them. Almost half of those users have opted into sharing some anonymized usage data with the service, which then uses this “Ghostrank” information to sell analysis to companies about the effectiveness of various elements of their webpages.

Now, after a year of testing, [company]Ghostery[/company] has unveiled its Marketing Cloud Management suite for enterprises that want to evaluate the complex stuff going on behind the scenes on their webpages. It uses Ghostrank data to alert enterprises to third-party tracking code that isn’t working properly, that’s insecure, or that they simply don’t know about (Ghostery reckons companies are generally aware of only a third of the third-party code running on their sites.) It also aims to improve performance by showing how smoothly these various elements play with one another.

Here’s a screenshot from the suite’s TrackerMap tool that demonstrates just how complex this interplay of third-party code (on just one page, remember) can be:

Ghostery TrackerMap

According to Ghostery, the system looks for changes in the scripts running on pages, and other vulnerabilities involving data being sent off to strange places, so as to intercept hackers more quickly. Its pitch includes the fact that insecure elements can hurt how a webpage appears in the browser (a yellow warning padlock next to the URL, denoting a mixed content warning), and these days how highly Google ranks the page, too.

Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer (no relation) told me on Wednesday that Ghostrank data is essential for this, because it provides circumstance-specific details of where non-secure calls are happening on otherwise secure pages. “This map of how tags get to your site is often going to be very specific to the cookie profile of that individual user,” he said.

Meyer added that Ghostery for enterprises could also be used to demonstrate that, when a user has opted out of being tracked by cookies, that’s actually being respected by every cookie (or not, in which case remedial action can be taken.) This is of particular concern to European companies trying to demonstrate compliance with the EU cookie law.

A lot of Ghostery users are privacy-minded individuals who may be turned off by this stuff – indeed, concerns have been raised previously about Ghostery’s servicing of both the user and the companies the user is trying to avoid being tracked by. But then again, Ghostrank is opt-in, and the aim of making webpages more secure and their myriad elements more predictable is a useful one.

Also, as Meyer pointed out: “When you have free tools, they need to have a business model behind them in order to stay free.” That business model has already seen customers such as [company]Equifax[/company], the [company]Intercontinental Hotel Group[/company] and [company]Procter & Gamble[/company] sign up for Ghostery’s services.