Do we know who is watching us online? The answer is definitely no.
Last week, I had the honor of speaking at Black Hat USA 2022, an internationally recognized cybersecurity event providing the most technical and relevant information about security research. My talk shared some of Norton Labs latest insights into web tracking, a top-of-mind issue for consumers because web browsing is linked to our personal information: location, purchases, interests, health, politics and more
Web tracking is at the center of a very dynamic ecosystem, which includes advertising and the “web economy,” privacy advocates, legislators and, above all, people like you and me. The complexity and evolution of the web tracking landscape make it hard to understand its overall trajectory, and somehow “track the trackers.” Despite recent legislation, it’s hard to tell if consumer data is still at risk – little has been known about the intricate mechanics and interactions that allow trackers to gather intelligence until now.
Norton Labs Findings
We believe previous studies have underestimated how much and how quickly trackers can collect information, as well as how much trackers know about us. My Black Hat presentation explored Norton Labs’ recent analysis of 138 million cookies on 6 million webpages to learn more about the prevalence of web tracking from the user’s point of view.
In fact, Norton Labs estimates that a single user encounters on average 177 different tracking organizations in one week. Users find half of those in the first two hours of browsing. This suggests that even if the user would restart with a clean device every day, it would only take two hours on average to encounter 50% of all trackers again. And because trackers are so prevalent, to avoid being tracked across websites, one would have to delete browsing history every hour!
No matter how many trackers you encounter at the end of the week, almost all of them know about you in just a few browsing hours. Our analysis also found that browsers know anywhere from 20% to more than 60% of user’s history. An increase of at least 5% if two organizations cooperate up to more than 50% with broader sharing of data.
And how much sensitive information is known by trackers? We found tracking activity is also not uniform across sensitive categories. For instance, sites in the Political category host many more trackers than any other type of website, and over 34% of tracker organizations are found on health-related sites.
Web tracking is a common phenomenon, but consumers aren’t powerless against it. For more information about web tracking and tips for what you can do about it, explore these resources:
- Do you know how much trackers know about you?
- Introducing Norton AntiTrack – Because privacy matters when you browse the web
- When Sally Met Trackers: Web Tracking From the Users' Perspective
Thanks to Black Hat for another great event—see you next year!
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