Start-Ups

Who watches the watchmen: Ghostery shows enterprise companies who's tracking them

Ghostery, maker of the popular Ghostery plug-in, recently released its enterprise product called Marketing Cloud Management. Here's how the company took its product to business users.

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Image: Ghostery

One of the online security tools used by Edward Snowden is now available for the enterprise.

In the post-Snowden era, awareness of who is tracking you and what data they are capturing is essential information for consumer users and enterprises alike. And one of the tools that Snowden himself uses is the Ghostery browser plug-in, according to Ghostery CEO Scott Meyer.

The Ghostery free browser plug-in and mobile apps, which allow users to see what companies are tracking them online, currently claim more than 40 million global users. Now, the company is bringing its transparency services to the enterprise with its Marketing Cloud Management (MCM) tool as part of its new Ghostery Enterprise division.

The enterprise MCM tool exposes and eliminates what Meyer calls "digital blind spots" created by a company's marketing cloud — marketing technology vendors, ad networks, and analytics tools, among others. This allows companies to organize their cloud, cut the lag created by some of these services, and secure any privacy issues or data breaches that have been created.

Ghostery launched the enterprise software at the 2014 DEMO conference in San Jose, California in November and is pushing full speed ahead with MCM.

Mobile Cloud Management

For consumers, the value proposition of Ghostery is pretty clear: it's a way to understand who is tracking you on the websites you visit. For enterprises, however, it isn't as blatant. According to Mark Colodny, a managing director at Warburg Pincus LLC who is on the board of directors for Ghostery, though, it can have some serious consequences.

"For enterprises, because tags and scripts are so opaque, we've been amazed how little visibility enterprises have on what's occurring on their own web pages," Colodny said. "But it's a huge problem: the hidden web of tags and scripts is creating significant latency and in some cases allowing a company's own data to be used by retargeters chasing their customers."

If you think about it in terms of a brick and mortar retail store, Colodny likens it to one of your competitors standing in your store's aisle trying to solicit customers — not an ideal situation.

According to Meyer, the secret sauce for Ghostery Enterprise has three key ingredients: User data from the Ghostrank panel, a proprietary library of 5,000 script signatures from 2,000 companies, and Ghostery's TrackerMap technology.

All of the technology was built in-house by the company and is patented or has a patent pending. The Ghostrank Panel is a portal through which users anonymously share their data with Ghostery. The plug-in operates the same way regardless of whether or not it is activated on a user's account. According to Ghostery website, the Ghostrank Panel collects the following data:

  • The tracker identified by Ghostery
  • The page where the tracker was found
  • The protocol of the page where the tracker was found
  • The blocking state of the tracker
  • The domains identified as serving trackers
  • The time it takes for the page and the tracker to load
  • The tracker's position on the page
  • The browser in which Ghostery has been installed
  • Ghostery version information
  • Standard web server log information, such as IP address (they do not store IP addresses) and HTTP headers

While the code isn't totally open source, it is open so that users can be sure of exactly what the tool is collecting. This data, combined with the script signatures from other companies powers the MCM tool.

One of the main ways that client companies interact with Ghostery's MCM is through the TrackerMap, an interactive map that displays marketing vendors as different-colored nodules relative to your domain. Users can single out individual nodes and determine what type of service it is and the average latency caused by it. Users are also alerted to security gaps caused by specific vendors so they can take action against that vendor in the chain.

Ghostery Enterprise also produces a data governance report for users that displays every company that is collecting data across your domains. The report shows what pages they are on, what data they're collecting, and what cookies they drop. All of this can be exported to an Excel spreadsheet. Users can speed up their site, ensure compliance, and make sure everything is secure.

The history of the company

Ghostery starter in 2009 as The Better Advertising Project, to power the Ad Choices program. The company bought the Ghostery free-browser plug-in in early 2010 to use as a data source, but the value of Ghostery grew.

According to Colodny, the original idea for the company was incubated with the Ghostery team through Meyer, who was an EIR at the time with Warburg Pincus.

"We could see that behavioral targeting was working because of cookies, and that cookie usage was exploding, so we surmised that privacy would become a serious problem and a business opportunity," Colodny said.

Over the next few years the company rebranded again and it continued to invest in Ghostery. The product launched on mobile and the company released tools such as the TrackerMap, before rebranding the entire company as Ghostery Inc. in 2014.

The first big ah-ha moment for an enterprise play came in 2012. Brands that were using the free plug-in came to Ghostery with compliance concerns and questions about how certain marketing vendors got to their site. The companies needed more resources.

"Like any good group of entrepreneurs, when you get a question like that from the likes of Procter & Gamble, there's only one answer: 'Of course!,'" Meyer said.

Six months later, those same enterprise customers were bringing questions about page latency, tag latency, and finding non-secure tags on secure pages. That was when Meyer said he realized the scale of the marketing cloud and the gravity of the issue. Their resources, such as the Ghostrank panel, had grown and they had the foundation to build the MCM software.

Currently, the company has 100 customers of its enterprise offering who pay on an annual recurring revenue basis. According to Meyer, the renewal rates are higher than 90%. The 400 customers for its privacy compliance business, and Ghostery has raised $25 million from Warburg Pincus LLC and from its management team.

In the near future, Meyer said the company is working to make the MCM a necessary tool across the enterprise, building a partner ecosystem around Ghostery Enterprise, and continuing to grow the community of business users who utilize the free browser plug-in.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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