GDPR is having an effect on websites using third-party cookies

16 Aug 2018

Image: Pegasene/Shutterstock

GDPR has been in force for close to three months and a new study shows third-party cookies on news websites are on the decline.

GDPR is barely three months old, but new research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that third-party content and cookie use are both on the decline since the regulation was enforced.

The research examined third-party content on news sites in April and July of this year. This helped to get a read on things before and after the stringent data rules came into force.

Homepage analysis of more than 200 of Europe’s most prominent news sites showed little change in the overall percentage 0f sites containing some form of third-party content (99pc) or third-party cookies (98pc).

A drop in third-party cookies

When you get down to the granular level of the research, things get a bit more interesting, as the authors discovered a 22pc drop in the number of third-party cookies across all news sites.

In April, German news sites had the second-lowest number of cookies and only exhibited a further decrease of 6pc fewer cookies in July. The UK had the most third-party cookies per page in April and this dropped by a whopping 45pc in July.

Third-party social media content on news sites has also dropped. Sharing buttons from the likes of Facebook and Twitter dropped from 84pc in April to 77pc in July.

The decreases in third-party cookies during the last three months vary, depending on the type of content. Cookies from design optimisation tools are down 27pc, advertising and marketing cookies are down 14pc and social media cookies are down 9pc.

US-based tech firms remain present on the highest number of the news sites in the sample, including Google (96pc), Facebook (70pc) and Amazon (57pc). Of these, Facebook saw the most significant drop in reach after GDPR. Most of the other companies with the widest presence in April, such as Verizon and Criteo, have also experienced significant drops.

A graph displaying the different amounts of cookies used on websites from April to July.

Chart demonstrating the difference in volume of third-party content over time. Graph: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

GDPR has played a role

Co-author Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen said the results are significant. “News sites, especially those based on advertising, are particularly dependent on third parties for many critical features ranging from monetisation to social sharing, and thus the question of how they deal with GDPR is both important and indicative of wider response.

“We find a clear decline in volume of third-party content, but also interesting that – with the partial exception of Facebook – the biggest ‘losers’ in terms of reach have been adtech companies outside the top three, not the biggest US-based tech firms.”

The lead author of the study, Dr Timothy Libert, said it is difficult to say with certainty why the changes have occurred. He added that they may not all be related to GDPR.

Libert did say that in many cases, third-party cookies should not have been sent without consent before GDPR was implemented. He added: “The changes we see may be more reflective of adjustments in compliance strategies than the new regulatory requirements.

“Likewise, while the outlook for user privacy appears to be improving, it is too early to know how transparent opt-in notices are, what portion of users elect to allow third-party cookies and how many websites force users to accept third-party tracking to view content.”

Libert emphasised that GDPR is an ongoing process as opposed to a singular event.

A total of 10,168 page loads, nearly 1m content requests and 2.7m cookies were captured and analysed from news sites in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK, using a purpose-built software tool, WebXray.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects