New study finds 90pc of users’ web activity through online advertising

7 Apr 2014

Ninety per cent of internet users’ web activity can be tracked using ad-tracking software that is commonly available to most, if not all, marketing companies, a new study suggests.

Undertaken by Princeton University, the study entitled Cookies That Give you Away: The Surveillance Implications of Web Tracking, shows that despite people’s fears of government agencies, such as the US National Security Agency (NSA), any marketing company or individual with a Google Double Click account can track the vast majority of users’ internet history.

The issue of cookies on the internet became apparent in recent years, as laws were introduced that required websites to make a visitor aware cookies will be installed on their computers to load information faster on their pages.

According to the researchers’ findings, an individual ad system assigns a user an ID number. That number will then allow the advertiser to track the user, which they were then able to link together as they browsed the web, while using social networking sites such as Google+ or Facebook, which affects about 90pc of the online community.

Speaking about their findings in an article, one of the team’s researchers admitted being shocked at the scale to which someone could be tracked.

“While it’s no surprise that web traffic contains sensitive information about individuals, what we’ve shown is just how complete a profile can be extracted even if the user’s traffic is mixed with millions of other users. Further, an eavesdropper can connect these profiles to real-world identities without needing the co-operation of any websites.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic