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You're probably aware that almost every website you visit tracks your behaviour in one way or another.

This post looks at which third-party tracking technologies the UK's largest news sites use.

Almost every commercial site uses some sort of tracking technology. For example, here's a screengrab of an Econsultancy page, using the 'Ghostery' chrome plugin to show which third party technologies the page uses.

Econsultancy Ghostery Screengrab 

What's often surprising though is the sheer number of 'bugs' used by sites. News sites in particular are often packed with different tools to help them achieve ad revenue.

Here's a chart showing the 68 different tracking technologies used across 10 of the UK's largest news sites. The chart shows:

  1. Which tracking technologies each site uses.
  2. How many tracking tools each individual news site uses in total. (at the foot of the chart) 
  3. Which are the most popular tracking technologies across the group of 10 sites. (totals are to the right of the chart)

Wherever a pink 'Y' appears, that indicates the news site has that particular tracking technology present on their site.

Chart: UK News Sites & The Tracking Technologies They Use

 Top Newspaper Tracking Bugs

Top five newspapers using most tracking tools

  • 1st Place: The Guardian wins the award for most tracking technologies, with 29 different tools.
  • 2nd: The Daily Star (a newspaper I'd all but forgotten about) claim 2nd, with 26 tracking technologies.
  • 3rd:  The Express has 25 different tracking tools active.
  • Joint 4th: The Sun and The Telegraph are in joint 4th, with 24 tracking technologies each.
  • Honourable Mention: The BBC News was the only entry in single figures, using only Maxymiser. 

Top five tracking technologies

  1. DoubleClick, Google's display technology, is number 1, present on 9 of the 10 sites.
  2. Scorecard Research Beacon - this is a tracking/benchmarking tool from Full Circle, a market research agency. Present on 8 sites.
  3. Audience Science - (formerly 'Revenue Science'), a data-centric digital media company. Present on 7 sites.
  4. Google Analytics - interesting to see that almost all of these huge media sites use Google Analytics, many alongside other web analytics tools. Present on 7 sites.
  5. NetRatings SiteCensus - another market research/benchmarking tool from Nielsen. Present on 7 sites.

Data caveats

Of course, there are always caveats in data like this, so I thought it fair to point a few out:

  • Not all tracking technologies are equal. Some do little more than count a page load; others link your behaviour across the web to serve ads based on what you do.
  • All of this data was collected manually, and so is unlikely to be comprehensive. I tried to maintain consistency however by going to each site and looking at the homepage, a news category, and an individual news item. As a result, though not everything will show up here, the results should be 'consistently inaccurate'. As just one example, The Guardian's jobs site uses other technologies not present on the main news site - those have not been included here.
  • All data was collected from the UK, while not logged into any of these sites. It's probable that some of these sites use different tools in different regions, and that other technologies may be used once you log in.
  • I haven't included The Times - among others - due to it being almost completely paywalled. 

Doing this yourself

If you'd like to keep an eye on who's tracking you as you browse round the web, 'Ghostery' is a brilliant Chrome/Firefox plugin for doing this.

In Chrome the 'Resources' & 'Network' tools help with this too (hit ctrl+shift+i and choose either of these tabs, or command+shift+c on a mac). 

Your thoughts 

What do you think about this? Were you surprised by all of these tracking technologies? Or that The Guardian was top & BBC News last?

And - do you think this will continue as-is after the 'Cookie Law' grace period ends? 

dan barker

Published 21 March, 2012 by dan barker

Dan Barker is an E-Business Consultant and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter and Google Plus

10 more posts from this author

Comments (20)

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lee

Does this mean the bbc doesn't need to know what is and isn't working for them? (due to the unique way they are funded :))

over 4 years ago

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Kevin Edwards

This is what the BBC lists including third party cookies:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/privacy/bbc-cookies-policy.shtml#s2

over 4 years ago

Alec Cochrane

Alec Cochrane, Head of Optimisation at Blue Latitude

The BBC News probably uses a proprietary tracking system that logs things on their own servers and tracks it from there (through the BBC-UID and BGUID cookies in the table that Kevin linked to).

That's not to say that they don't use third party tracking software to do the analysis.

over 4 years ago

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Gerry White

Odd, spent about 40 minutes trying to find scorecard tracking on a number of sites that I visted, frequently it was hidden within ShareThis tracking and others, I am wondering if this is hidden on some of the other sites, I can't for example find it on the Express and have been rooting through for a while, but Ghostery is a great find!

I am wondering how many things are even unknown to publishers as I am fairly confident a client using ShareThis buttons wasn't aware of this additional tracking and the possible implications when it comes to end user privacy.

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

hi, everyone, thanks for the comments!

@Kevin/Lee

Interestingly, I took a look at the BBC news site from abroad too and ADTECH, AdSense and a few others are all present. Interesting that they don't mention those in the cookie policy, or that Maxymiser isn't in the UK. Perhaps a little out of date?

@Gerry

I find scorecard research beacon called here for example: http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/309556/Budget-2012-Osborne-cuts-top-rate-of-tax-to-45p-but-leaves-pensioners-out-of-pocket . They seem to call it in via a script called 'front.asp' that sits on their own server.

Great spot on ShareThis - I hadn't noticed that. It seems Scorecard Research is used by comScore, and comScore have had ShareThis implement it across the massive range of sites where they're present. (this is based purely on the tone of things here: http://forums.sharethis.com/topic.php?id=3321 ).

A very good point - I bet you're right and it won't even occur to most site owners that their third parties may be pulling in things from additional third parties too.

dan

over 4 years ago

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Dwayne Browne

@dan barker ...The bbc's policies on advertising and tracking differ for non-UK users. The content that you will see from abroad is the international version. Users in the UK see a different set of cookies, tracking etc.

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@Dwayne - thanks, Dwayne. If you take a look at their Privacy policy (linked to by Kevin above) they specifically split out UK/non-UK.

It has separate sections for the UK & international, but neither seems fully up to date, as 'Maxymiser' (a tool they seem to use in the UK) is not mentioned, and 'AdSense', 'ADTECH' (etc) aren't mentioned in the international policy.

dan

over 4 years ago

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Nick Duke, Head of Digital at Legal & General Investments

I'd be interested in finding out what these publishers stance is with regards to the new ICO cookie policy laws. We only have a few on the sites we look after and it's proving a real headache to come to a sensible solution.

over 4 years ago

Clive Page

Clive Page, Publisher Solutions at Acceleration

@Gerry/Lee/Kevin

There is another FF add-on called Krux Inspector (http://goo.gl/IVfvs) which shows you the relationships between the cookies; so who ushered in who.

In most instances is it the SSP that is bring with it a number of other cookies.

over 4 years ago

Clive Page

Clive Page, Publisher Solutions at Acceleration

I have just looked at the Daily Star site and have seen the longest chain of collectors I have ever seen; 46 collection events from one ad call!

Krux Inspector screen grab: http://goo.gl/kq3Xj

over 4 years ago

Clive Page

Clive Page, Publisher Solutions at Acceleration

I have just looked at the Daily Star site and have seen the longest chain of collectors I have ever seen. 46 collection events from one ad call!

Krux Inspector screen grab: http://goo.gl/kq3Xj

over 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Hi Dan, Great insight in to what's being used. Thanks for the recommendation to use Ghostery, very handy.

Do you know if any of these sites have done anything to comply with the EU Cookie Law? It could be a minefield for those with a lot of tracking on their sites!

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Hi, Anna! How are you?

There was nothing re cookie compliance on any site aside from the usual Privacy policies. I did notice a few of these are now named 'privacy & cookie policy' - eg the Daily Mail's at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/article-1388040/Privacy-Policy--Cookies.html

My bet is most will remain as-is until someone else moves.

What do you think?

dan

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@Clive - thanks very much or that - I hadn't seen Krux - very useful!

And yes - I was surprised by the Daily Star too - especially as (as I said) I'd largely forgotten they even existed. I never see them cropping up in natural search results, etc.

Thanks again.

dan

over 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Thanks for the reply Dan, I'm starting to worry about the Cookie Law!

I'm very surprised not one of them has done anything other than review their Privacy page. The Daily Mail's looks pretty informative but I didn't think that was enough? I'm of the understanding that it has to be opt in.

There's not long to go till the grace period is over and I don't know whether there's going to be a crack down once it is, but I would have thought they'd be worrying about it. Surely no one would want to tempt fate when the fine could be half a million pounds? Obviously that's for a very serious breach but any fine is likely to more expensive than implementing a solution. Although, solutions may lose money as you don't have all the information you need to optimise your site effectively, it's something everyone is going to have to weigh up soon.

over 4 years ago

Rob Jackson

Rob Jackson, UK Managing Director at Elisa Interactive Ltd

Hi Dan

Great article - I'm sure we chatted about this at the eConsultancy Xmas party!

Just looking at the BBC cookie page and it's interesting to see they list Omniture, ComScore, GA, DoubleClick and others as technologies that are used on the site. Do you think this is to do with Maxymiser's dom manipulation or just that Ghostery can't see everything all the time?

Cheers

Rob

over 4 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@Rob - thanks very much. We probably did - I remember us talking about the telegraph & the cookie law, prior to your robust assertion that Sergei Rachmaninoff's technique was determined entirely by his physical stature.

I'm abroad at the moment, and so the BBC site has all sorts of different stuff going on from here. Did you spot Clive Page's recommendation of 'Krux Inspector'? That might give the answer.

@Anna - Yes, it has to be 'explicit consent' except where the cookies are 'strictly necessary' for the function/maintenance of the website. The ICO guidelines also say that analytics is not considered a strictly necessary function, but they also heavily hint that they'll turn a blind eye to Google Analytics. (this is off the top of my head - best to read the guidelines themselves rather than trust me!)

I've done a few informal polls around the cookie law and the vast, overwhelming response is "wait and see".

I suppose many are doing the calculation "likelihood of getting a fine x likely amount of fine" and comparing that against "cost of implementation + likely lost business now + likely lost future business through worse marketing/user experience", along with all the bits around giving business to competitors. Or perhaps they just don't know what to do & how to do it? Things are complicated enough as it is.

What do you think? What are you advising your clients?

dan

over 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

I agree with the calculation people will be doing! That and not having a clue and not wanting to end up disadvantaged.

You're right that they do hint they will turn a blind eye to analytics:
"Provided clear information is given about their activities we are highly unlikely to prioritise first party cookies used only for analytical purposes in any consideration of regulatory action."

I'm still looking in to the best solution, there are a lot of contradictions in the guidelines and I'm no lawyer!

over 4 years ago

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson, General Secretary, Web Presence Committee at AXAEnterprise

It's interesting that the BBC showed the lowest number of tracking technologies. This may be an indication of the policies and standards they operate to.
If there are clear policies on the adding of tracking technology, then there is also likely to be less put in place.

As for the cookies legislation, I'm seeing that some sites are taking the first step to get their house in order by publishing their cookie detail.
As has been picked up in this thread already, the challenge is to keep it updated as the tracking technology is added or removed.
As for further permission based solutions, I think everyone is waiting for some further clarity.

over 4 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

@ALL In case you haven't seen I've just posted an article on Econsultancy's 'solution' to the EU Directive at http://econsultancy.com/blog/9453-econsultancy-s-solution-to-eu-e-privacy-directive-compliance

over 4 years ago

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