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Security & privacy

20 websites most guilty of tracking what you do online

Thanks to the internet, modern lingo updates itself at the speed of light. Original terms pop up like weeds, and by the time you finally pick them up, you turn around to discover even more concepts have emerged, creating entirely new sentences that wouldn’t make sense in any other context. Case in point: “Cookies are stalking your every click and reporting back on your browsing history.”

That might sound weird at first; after all, in the real world, baked goods aren’t capable of spying on you. But over on the internet, “cookies” is another term for the tiny trackers that ad companies and data brokers use to watch over everything you do online. Tap or click here to understand what you’re signing up for when you accept cookies from a website.

Third-party cookies are so normalized that some of the biggest websites you visit may use them. Even worse, some websites will follow you after you’ve left; they’ll make a note of everything you do on other websites, as well. Here are some of the biggest culprits you need to watch out for.

Here’s the backstory

Although companies have used cookies to follow you around the web for years, Google’s cooking up a plan for a new way to track you. A while ago, Google said it would phase out its third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. It announced a brand-new tracking system called FloC, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts.

Basically, FloC runs in your browser and rifles through your weekly activity. It keeps your user data in the browser and then dumps you into a group of people with similar histories. These groups are called “cohorts.” You’re assigned into new cohorts every week, based on what you looked up last week.

DO THIS TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY: 6 ways to stop advertisers from following you online

The whole point is to give you more anonymity. Google says its cohorts will have a ton of people, which makes it hard for third parties to identify you — but it’s also specific enough for ad targeting. It’s a big change, and it’s going to require a lot of careful reworking.

Back in June, Google pushed back the FloC release date to mid-2023. When the cohort feature finally hits, though, it could revolutionize the way companies track your data. In light of this announcement, a new study from pCloud unveils the internet’s most invasive websites. Researchers analyzed 88 websites to identify those that track you the most. According to pCloud, these websites follow you the farthest:

That’s right: Although Google plans to change the way it tracks you, right now, it’s collecting a boatload of data on your browsing habits. Tap or click here to see everything Google tracks about you and erase it.

Research shows Google uses some of “the most prevalent cross-site trackers on the internet”

According to the study, the tech giant has seven seemingly ubiquitous cross-site trackers. While analyzing 88 popular websites, researchers spotted these trackers 262 times. Chief among them was doubleclick.net, which popped up on 70 websites.

Basically, this specific tracker lets online advertisers and publishers display ads throughout different websites. So if you’ve ever been haunted by the same obnoxious ad, no matter what website you’re on, this tracker may be the culprit.

Advertisers love doubleclick.net because it gives them the freedom to control how often a browser sees this ad as well as how long it’s shown. Click here for more details on how it works.

Here are the rest of Google’s biggest tracking tools, according to pCloud:

TrackerSeen on websites
doubleclick.net70
googletagmanager.com60
google-analytics.com60
googleadservices.com40
googletagservices.com14
googlesyndication.com14
2mdn.net14
Table from pCloud

It’s no surprise that Google reigns supreme when it comes to tracking. But you might be surprised by some of the study’s other findings.

We’ve talked about sites that collect your data the most. Here are the sites that share your data the most

Some of these seem like they’re out of left field. For example, British news site The Sun was ranked as the worst privacy invader. (It uses 31 cross-site trackers to share users’ private data with companies.)

Here’s the full list of guilty culprits you need to watch out for:

If you’re sick and tired of being tracked, we found some Google alternatives you might like. Now, instead of sharing your entire personal life with one company, you can easily switch over to a more privacy-friendly browser. Tap or click for the best sites you can use instead of Google.

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