From Political Campaigns To Your Favorite Holiday Shopping Sites, Online Tracking Is At An All-Time High

Berkeley Center for Law and Technology & Abine, the online privacy company, find 11 percent increase in tracking cookies on the top 100 US websites over the past 5 months

Nov 08, 2012, 09:00 ET from Abine

BERKELEY, Calif. and BOSTON, Nov. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- While public debate about online tracking and Microsoft's Do Not Track continues, tracking of web users' behavior is growing at a startling pace. Berkeley Center for Law and Technology's Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, based on online privacy company Abine's web crawling and analysis technology that powers its DoNotTrackPlus tool, determined that the use of third-party tracking cookies on the 100 most popular websites increased by 11 percent from May to October 2012. If present trends continue, the amount of online tracking will double in about two and a half years. In addition, tracking technology is evolving as advertisers move away from Flash cookies, which iOS devices do not support, to HTML5 local storage.  The study concludes that online tracking is growing in both pervasiveness and sophistication.

"In our most recent crawl of websites, we found statistically significant increases in online tracking from just five months ago," said Chris Hoofnagle, Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.  "All of the most popular websites are using cookies. In addition, the vast majority of these cookies are from third party domains that consumers may not expect to be present on the site."

For this second report in its recurring Web Privacy Census, Berkeley conducted a crawl of the top hundred, thousand, and twenty-five thousand websites on Oct. 24, 2012 to secure and analyze data about the number and type of trackers on the most-visited websites in the US.  It conducted both shallow and deep crawls to collect data. A shallow crawl analyzed the homepage of a website; a deep crawl looked at both the homepage and six random links found on it to get a sense of tracking used throughout the site.

The researchers noted that "by merely visiting the homepage of the most popular sites, perhaps without even receiving a privacy policy, thousands of cookies are installed" on consumers' devices. On the homepages of the top 100 sites, the shallow crawl found 2,324 third-party cookies from advertising networks and other trackers, up 19 percent from 1,887 found five months earlier in May 2012. The deep crawl found 5,493 third-party cookies, an 11 percent increase over the 4,863 found five months earlier in May 2012.  This growth in third-party tracking cookies made up almost all of the growth in total cookies on the top 100 websites, which grew from 5,795 to 6,485, or 12 percent, during the same time period.  Similar growth was observed on the top 1,000 and 25,000 websites. The Census found that 11 percent of the top 100 sites contained 150 or more trackers on their sites.

Online tracking technology is also evolving as legacy tracking techniques like Flash cookies fall out of favor and HTML5  rise. Use of Flash cookies dropped 15 percent from May to October 2012, while HTML5 local storage use increased by 12 percent.  The drop in Flash cookies may be a reflection of the growth of iOS devices, which do not support Flash technology. The rapid evolution of online tracking techniques often outpaces the knowledge or awareness of US consumers, a majority of whom said in a 2012 Pew survey that they "don't like having [their] online behavior tracked and analyzed." An October 2012 privacy study, also from UC Berkeley, found that 60 percent of consumers said they would want Do Not Track options to stop websites from collecting information about users, a position that the advertising industry opposes. Despite consumer concern about the practice, online tracking allows advertisers to collect, share, and sell user information including articles read, videos watched, and likely religious and political views.

Berkeley used Abine's proprietary crawling and analysis technology for both the May and October 2012 web analyses.  The technology also powers Abine's DoNotTrackPlus, a free browser add-on that surpasses the passive Do Not Track header used by most browsers to actively block online tracking technologies, enabling greater online privacy for web users.

"The Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census shows that online tracking is increasing at an incredible pace," stated Bill Kerrigan, CEO of Abine.  "In just five short months, the quantity of trackers and the technology used to track both evolved. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real, and we hope that by raising awareness people will know they need to take action."

The results come on the heels of a 2012 presidential election that saw both campaigns using a previously unseen amount and depth of online tracking to categorize eligible voters and influence their votes. As the holiday season approaches, website tracking will play a significant role behind the scenes on top retail websites. US consumers spent $32 billion on online shopping in 2011 and are expected to top that number in 2012.

For more information and to view the Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, please visit

About Berkeley Center for Law and Technology

The mission of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (BCLT) is to foster the beneficial and ethical understanding of intellectual property (IP) law and related fields as they affect public policy, business, science, and technology. Established in 1995 with a focus on intellectual property, BCLT has expanded over the years to encompass privacy law, electronic commerce, digital entertainment law, cleantech, telecommunications regulation, cyberlaw, and many other areas of constitutional, regulatory, and business law that are affected by new technologies. For more information, please visit

About Abine

People want more control over their personal information online, and Abine is here to help. Abine provides consumers with online privacy solutions that are innovative, easy to use, and work for everyday web users. With proven tools, Abine enables people to both benefit from the web and retain control over their personal information. Millions of consumers use Abine's products and services, which include the free tracker-blocking tool DoNotTrackPlus and the premium data broker removal service DeleteMe. Abine is backed by premier venture capital firms Atlas Venture and General Catalyst Partners. Abine: The Online Privacy Company ™. Online privacy starts at

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RF|Binder Partners