We all know that web sites often load trackers and ad programs when we visit. This is why it’s recommended that you use plugins like Ghostery, or take other steps to block those trackers. But how bad is it really? Try 500 trackers in 20 pages.
Politico, for instance, has over 100 trackers in its site. In one test, it loaded 89 of them on one visit to its front page. The Daily Mail, another popular site, was even worse.
A single click on its Mail Online flagship sends a whopping 672 requests, but it manages to run them at blazing speed (19 sec loading time) for a feather weight of 3 Mb, including 2.7 Mb for 578 super-optimized pictures that don’t exceed 120 Kb each.
The Mail Online wins many digital speed/weight records. It is one of the most optimized web sites in the world (see our last week story on the obesity plaguing the news industry). But when it comes to monitoring users, The Mail Online also scores high with 79 trackers loaded in one stroke (see below), of which I was able to detail only 63 in my main table:
These two sites aren’t alone. The author of that article tested 20 popular sites such as CNN, Wired, and others, and found over 500 trackers. Chances are extremely high that you visit at least one of these sites on a daily basis; then again, if you visit ONE of them, ONE time, you’re already tracked.
To get an idea of how complete a picture they get, now multiply that by all the times per day you visit, the places you are when you visit, and how you connect. Maybe you read your Facebook feed in the morning with your coffee between 0630 and 0700, and you visit a few links that go to CNN or Daily Mail or Politico. You connected via your wifi at home, so now there’s a series of data points showing that you are home at that hour every day, and that you probably leave for work between 0700 and 0730. Maybe you go to those sites on your lunch or break or while waiting on the train, carpool, or even in traffic. That’s another time/date stamp with location. None of this is even counting the part where it tracks what you click, what you like, buy, talk about, think about, and how all of that dovetails with other information about your browsing habits, interests, and what kinds of things you’re searching for on the internet.
If you’re a bit freaked out, that’s normal. If you’re angry and want to do something about it, now you’re on the right track. There are ways to stop these trackers from pegging your every move and time of movement. We’ll show you some of them at the Cryptoparty on December 5th. It’s free, so make plans now to attend. In the meantime, check out Ghostery.