Exposing the Hidden Web: An Analysis of Third-Party HTTP Requests on 1 Million Websites

International Journal of Communication October, 2015

10 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2015 Last revised: 3 Feb 2016

See all articles by Timothy Libert

Timothy Libert

University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication, Students

Date Written: October 30, 2015

Abstract

This article provides a quantitative analysis of privacy-compromising mechanisms on 1 million popular websites. Findings indicate that nearly 9 in 10 websites leak user data to parties of which the user is likely unaware; more than 6 in 10 websites spawn third-party cookies; and more than 8 in 10 websites load Javascript code from external parties onto users' computers. Sites that leak user data contact an average of nine external domains, indicating that users may be tracked by multiple entities in tandem. By tracing the unintended disclosure of personal browsing histories on the Web, it is revealed that a handful of U.S. companies receive the vast bulk of user data. Finally, roughly 1 in 5 websites are potentially vulnerable to known National Security Agency spying techniques at the time of analysis.

Keywords: behavioral tracking, hidden Web, advertising, Internet policy, Do Not Track

JEL Classification: J78

Suggested Citation

Libert, Timothy, Exposing the Hidden Web: An Analysis of Third-Party HTTP Requests on 1 Million Websites (October 30, 2015). International Journal of Communication October, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2685330

Timothy Libert (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication, Students ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

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