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?