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News Sites Are Tracking Your Web Traffic Way More Than Porn Sites

News Sites Are Tracking Your Web Traffic Way More Than Porn Sites

Online news sites track users across the web with more third-party tracking code than any other type of site, a new study has found.

Using a custom open-source measurement tool, Princeton researchers analyzed the top 1 million websites ranked by the web analytics firm Alexa. What they found is that news sites load far more third-party trackers than sites in other categories including sports, games and even, yes—porn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that the sites that load the most unique trackers tend to be ones that publish content and are dependent on advertising revenue (like Motherboard), whereas those with the least amount belong to universities, non-profit entities, and other organizations that likely receive outside funding.

The one surprising exception is porn sites, which despite being ad-dependent still load dramatically less trackers than news sites, almost by an order of magnitude. Overall, however, the data suggests the number of unique trackers is actually consolidating, with many of the most common trackers being controlled by the same entities—Google and Facebook in particular.

“Sites on the high end of the spectrum are largely those which provide editorial content. Since many of these sites provide articles for free, and lack an external funding source, they are pressured to monetize page views with significantly more advertising,” write authors Steven Englehardt and Arvind Narayanan.

Tracking code has become ubiquitous in web publishing, allowing advertisers and analytics firms to track site visitors’ browsing habits, constructing detailed profiles of individual users for targeted advertising. Dozens of third-party trackers often load on a single site, unless the user installs a tracker-blocking extension like Privacy Badger, Ghostery or Disconnect.

The study also shows that third-party trackers have played a major role in preventing the adoption of secure HTTPS connections. Since they load tracking code from so many sources, most news sites can’t provide secure connections unless all of those third-parties do the same. If a site has enabled HTTPS but still loads tracking code resources over insecure HTTP, the result will be “mixed” content that creates security problems and generates browser warnings.

The researchers found that that 27 percent of HTTPS sites that display insecure “mixed” content are doing so solely because of trackers. Even further, their analysis shows that 26 percent of sites that load HTTP by default also load tracking code that don’t support HTTPS, meaning that they’d be unable to upgrade to HTTPS without either dropping their ad trackers or breaking their site.

News Sites Are Tracking Your Web Traffic Way More Than Porn Sites

Via: Motherboard

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