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Research Exposes the Alarming Practices of Online Tracking

3 March 2022

The privacy notices and tracking practices of top international websites and their apps on Android devices are not compliant with current regulations

Led by Dr Maryam Mehrnezhad, Lecturer in Cybersecurity and Privacy at Newcastle University’s School of Computing, the research team observed the top 100 EU websites from a user’s point of view to analyse how these websites use and present privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs).

This study revealed cookie notices and user opt-out routes violations in 97 out of EU’s 100 most popular websites, and further showed that the corresponding Android apps websites suffer from the same non-complaint practices.

Online tracking enables online services companies to collect data, which for example could be used for personalised offers. Any device connected to a network can leak data about its users and environment. The most common tracking method is known as cookies – small pieces of data (in text form) that are downloaded to a device when a website is visited. Other tracking methods include websites creating a fingerprint of the user’s browser with information collected through JavaScript.

To mitigate these issues, the study authors recommend that designers and privacy educators need to not only provide information, but to guide different user groups according to their preferences, and support accessibility of PETs within users’ preferred route. The team highlights that regulators should identify those needs leading to more effective and sometimes distinctive regulations.

More information on the findings can be found in our press release.