Three out of every four pages you visit on the internet has someone snooping on you. A study by Ghostery has found that at least one tracker was prowling around 77.4 percent of the page loaded on the internet. And, the biggest culprits are the usual suspects — Google and Facebook.
Alarmingly, the study found trackers on most private of pages such as internet banking, password reset or recovery pages, hospitals among others. That means, theoretically, the trackers can obtain the information such as passwords for your financial accounts and the historical data about health.
“Trackers can gain access to highly personal information from which conclusions can be drawn, not only about an individual's financial situation, interests, and shopping plans but also about his or her sexual orientation, health, political views and religious beliefs,” the study says.
“When a user then logs into his or her personal account on a web service, private information from previous site visits can be easily linked to him or her. The massive collection of data poses an imminent threat to people's privacy.”
The king of tracking
Not surprisingly, Google tops the list of companies which employ trackers most extensively. The company whose primary revenue comes from advertising has five services — Google Analytics, DoubleClick, Google Publisher Tags, Google Tag Manager and Google AdSense—which keep a tab on cumulatively 64 percent of the internet traffic.
Of the examined 144 million page loads, Google Analytics was present on nearly half of them. DoubleClick was second most employed tracker (overall third) by Google present on 19 percent of pages examined.
Facebook, expectedly, came second in tracking the internet user behaviour and obtaining information by being present on 29 percent of pages loaded. The social media giant employs three trackers services—Facebook Connect, Facebook Custom Audience and Facebook Social Plugin.
% of total (144 million) page loads, most prevalent scripts. Source: Ghostery
Other top trackers which were found in the study were web analytics firm ComScore on 11.4 percent of page loads, Twitter on 10.5 percent of page loads and Russian internet giant Yandex on 9.5 percent of the pages.
The study found that more than 10 trackers were present on 16 percent of the page loads. 44 percent pages had 2-9 trackers loaded with them. About 18 percent of the pages had just one tracker.
These trackers are present on not just the website they are employed by (like Facebook or Google) but on third party websites as well. Interestingly, the site operators themselves frequently have no idea about the type of tracking scripts and pixels that are keeping company on their website.
The study says that there is no way that internet users can escape the trackers placed by Google or Facebook. “Even if a user consciously decides to avoid the services or products offered by Google and Facebook, the internet companies can still monitor much of the user's online activities with the help of tracking scripts they have planted on websites run by third parties,” the study says.
It was established that 15 percent of the analysed websites share private data. Some of the data which are very personal is shared with 10 or more tracker operators. Though it is still a mystery that how these technology behemoths like Facebook, Google, ComScore and Amazon use these personal data.The users are unaware of questions such as what specific data are collected, where and how long these are stored and who is given access to the data. As the cyberspace has no boundary, privacy laws enacted by countries have a little practical effect on it. So in the end, it is up to users themselves to maintain their privacy, though they have limited options available.