The sound of online trackers

Every time a browser interacts with an advertising tracker, a program called Googerteller emits a short sound.

Googerteller lets you hear how tracking sounds

We all know that we’re being tracked online, but the sheer scale of it continues to stagger — at least when this scale is properly communicated. Dry facts like “Your browser connected to 456 advertising trackers in the past hour” usually don’t get the point across. The problem is that such numbers lack context. They fail to connect our online actions with their unseen consequences. But what if we could somehow make online tracking visible — or audible? Electronic music artist Jasmine Guffond did just that a few years back…

The sound of Google tracking

She created a browser extension called Listening Back, which plays a sound every time your browser saves, modifies, or deletes a cookie file. Since these events accompany practically any user action, the result is both eye-opening (or ear-opening, if you will) and rather bizarrely beautiful.

A similar idea occurred to Dutch programmer Bert Hubert, known for creating the PowerDNS software for DNS servers. According to Hubert, when studying network activity logs, he was always struck by how often sites communicate with Google (and other sites too). This inspired him to write a small program he called Googerteller.

In the original version, the program emitted a sound every time a connection to Google was made. The result was also impressive — just listen to how it sounds. For example, here’s a recording of a visit to the official Dutch government job website, which features posts for vacancies in its intelligence agencies.

Almost every click on this site sends information to Google — and the user is never warned about this.

More tracking  — more sound

Not content with just Google, Bert Hubert added to Googerteller addresses belonging to Facebook and a number of other “popular” online trackers. Then, he visited a couple of websites that abuse online tracking much more severely than the Dutch government job site. The results speak volumes.

Unfortunately, Googerteller is only available as source code on GitHub. Anyone interested in listening to online tracking with their own ears can compile it, and then run it on their computer. Here’s the original Googerteller code for Linux, macOS, and other X-systems, and here’s a “fan-made version” for Windows called GoogeDotTeller. The only way to experience Googerteller without compiling it yourself is with this Googerteller-inspired plugin for Mozilla Firefox (and here’s its source code).

However, the above-mentioned electronic musician’s Listening Back browser extension remains readily available in the official extension stores — for both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. No technical skills are needed’ just install and away you go.

Enjoy the silence

If you’d rather not just listen to trackers collecting information about you, but actively block them, our Private Browsing feature is here to help. It effectively counters online advertising trackers. This feature is available in all our home user subscriptions: Kaspersky Standard, Kaspersky Plus, and Kaspersky Premium.

Remember to check your settings: by default, the Private Browsing feature only works in tracker detection and counting mode. Blocking mode must be enabled manually. Once done, fire up Googerteller or Listening Back and compare how your browser sounds with and without protection.