Mozilla CEO Uses TED Talk to Ask: Who’s Tracking the Trackers?

Posted by · June 21, 2012 4:43 pm

Image representing Gary Kovacs as depicted in ...As the CEO of Mozilla Corporation, Gary Kovacs knows first-hand what goes on behind the scenes as the average user surfs the Web. And in a lot of cases, it’s probably safe to assume that some of those less-than-transparent aspects of that line of work could financially benefit his company in a significant way. That’s why I was so impressed by this particular TED Talk from Kovacs (full video below).

Taking the stage at a February TED event, the Mozilla exec wasted no time sugarcoating the way that the average user’s information is becomes a hot commodity on a digital black market of sorts every time they surf the Web.

“[I am] not even two bites into breakfast, and there are already nearly 25 sites that are tracking me,” Kovacs explained using a demonstration of Mozilla’s experimental add-on Collusion. “I have navigated to a total of four [sites].”

Bringing a refreshing degree of moderation to his TED Talk, Kovacs did not use this disconcerting (to say the least!) reality involving users’ personal information to disavow the entire system of personal data collection. In fact, the Mozilla CEO was sure to highlight some of the oft-ignored benefits of Web tracking—including increased browsing efficiency, as well as more useful suggestions from the media and social sites we frequent.

“Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not for one minute suggesting that sharing data is a bad thing,” he continues. “In fact, when I know the data that’s being shared and I’m asked explicitly for my consent, I want some sites to understand my habits” (emphasis added).

In a loosely structured, barely regulated arena such as this, though, Kovacs has noticed—and quite predictably, I might add—that it is more than just the sites we visit and grant explicit permission to that obtain our information and subsequently use it to their multibillion-dollar ends. While being aware of this much was enough to leave the Mozilla exec “freaked out,” it wasn’t until he realized that the same tabs were being kept on his 9-year-old daughter’s Internet activity that he became “outraged.”

“This is no longer me being a tech pioneer or a privacy advocate,” he explains. “This is me being a parent.”

Oh, what a radically different world it would be—both on and offline—if everyone in Kovacs position used this almost instinctual check as a guiding principle in their various business ventures!

Watch the full “Tracking the Trackers” TED Talk here:

For more on Mozilla Collusion and other Web privacy news…