Home SecurityPhishing A review of prevalent web tracking services in 2021–2022

A review of prevalent web tracking services in 2021–2022

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Every time you go online, someone is watching over you. The services you use, the websites you visit, the apps on your phone, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and any networked devices collect data on you with the help of trackers installed on web pages or in software. The websites and services send this data to their manufacturers and partners whose trackers they use. Companies are looking for all kinds of information on you: from device specifications to the way you are using a service, and the pages you are opening. Data thus collected primarily helps companies, firstly, to understand their customers better and improve the products by analyzing the user experience, and, secondly, to predict user needs and possibly even manipulate them. Besides, the more an organization knows about you, the better it can personalize ads that it shows you. These ads command higher rates than random ones and therefore generate higher profits.

Understanding who is collecting the data and why requires you to have free time and to know where to look. Most services have published privacy policies, which should ideally explain in detail what data the service collects and why. Sadly, these policies are seldom transparent enough. Worried about this lack of transparency, users and privacy watchdogs put pressure on technology companies. Certain tech giants recently started adding tools to their ecosystems that are meant to improve the data collection transparency. For example, upon the first run of an app downloaded from the App Store, Apple inquires if the user is willing to allow that app to track their activity. However, not every service provides this kind of warnings. You will not see a prompt like that when visiting a website, even if you are doing it on an Apple device.

Browser privacy settings and special extensions that recognize tracking requests from websites and block these can protect you from tracking as you surf the web. That is how our Do Not Track (DNT) extension works. Furthermore, with the user’s consent, DNT collects anonymized data on what tracking requests are being blocked and how frequently. This report will look at companies that collect, analyze, store user data, and share it with partners, as reported by DNT.

Statistics collection principles

This report uses anonymous statistics collected between August 2021 and August 2022 by the Do Not Track component, which blocks loading of web trackers. The statistics consist of anonymized data provided by users voluntarily. We have compiled a list of 25 tracking services that DNT detected most frequently across nine regions and certain individual countries. 100% in each case represents the total number of DNT detections triggered by all 25 tracking services.

DNT (disabled by default) is part of Kaspersky Internet Security, Kaspersky Total Security, and Kaspersky Security Cloud.

Global web tracking giants

Six tracking services made the TOP 25 rankings in each of the regions at hand. Four of them are owned by Google: Google Analytics, Google AdSense, Google Marketing Platform, and YouTube Analytics. The remaining two are owned by Meta and Criteo, which we will cover later.

Google

Our last report, published in 2019, took a close look at Google’s trackers: DoubleClick, Google AdSense, Google Analytics, and YouTube Analytics. This was right around the time when the search giant announced plans to rebrand the DoubleClick advertising platform and merge it with its advertising ecosystem. Today, DoubleClick is part of Google Marketing Platform, although the tracking URLs have not changed and continue to function as before. For convenience, our statistics will refer to that tracking service as “Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick)”.

Share of DNT detections triggered by Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) trackers in each region, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) had its largest shares in our TOP 25 rankings for South Asia (32.92%) and the Middle East (32.84%). These were followed by its shares in Africa and Latin America: 25.37% and 24.64%, respectively. The lowest share (just 7.05%) of Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) DNT detections in our regional TOP 25 rankings of the busiest tracking services were observed in the CIS.

A further tracking service operated by Google, Google Analytics, collects data on website visitors and provides detailed statistics to clients. That service, too, accounts for a fairly large share of DNT detections across the world.

Share of DNT detections triggered by Google Analytics trackers in each region, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

A look at the share of Google Analytics in various regions will reveal a similar pattern to the Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick). Google Analytics received its largest shares of detections in South Asia (18.04%), Latin America (17.97%), Africa (16.56%) and the Middle East (16.44%). Its smallest share was in the CIS: 9.06%.

Share of DNT detections triggered by Google AdSense trackers in each region, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Another tracking system operated by Google is Google AdSense context ad service. This, again, had its highest percentages in the Middle East (5.27%), Africa (4.63%), Latin America (4.44%), and South Asia (4.44%). Here, too, the CIS ranked last with just 1.45% of detections triggered by the service.

Rounding out the list of Google’s tracking services is YouTube Analytics. It provides YouTube bloggers with data on their audiences that its trackers collect and analyze.

Share of DNT detections triggered by YouTube Analytics trackers in each region, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

The Middle East (8.04%), South Asia (7.79%), Africa (5.97%), and Latin America (5.02%) again accounted for the highest shares of detections. At the bottom of the region list this time around is North America (1.82%), rather than the CIS (2.54%). The low percentage is no indication of YouTube’s insignificant presence in the region. The small share of YouTube Analytics in the region was likely due to fierce competition among services that collect and analyze data. We will revisit this later.

Meta (Facebook)

Facebook Custom Audiences by Meta, which provides targeted advertising services, was present in each of the regions along with Google’s tracking services. Services like that collect various types of user data, analyze these, and segment the audience to ensure better ad targeting. An advertiser who uses a targeting service wins by having their products shown to the people who are the likeliest to be interested. Compared to smaller advertising providers, Facebook Custom Audiences covers a significantly larger audience. Our data shows, however, that Meta was second to Google in terms of presence in all regions of the world.

Share of DNT detections triggered by Facebook Custom Audiences trackers in each region, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Facebook Custom Audiences had its largest shares in Latin America (8.76%) and Oceania (7.95%), and its smallest, in the CIS (2.12%). As mentioned above, the modest shares occupied by the global trackers could be linked to serious competition from local data collection and analysis services.

Criteo

The last on the list of tracking services detected in every corner of the world was Criteo. Though a less familiar name than Google or Facebook, Criteo actually is a major French advertising company providing a range of services from collection and analysis of user data to advertising itself.

Share of DNT detections triggered by Criteo trackers in each region, August 2021 —August 2022 (download)

Criteo trackers were most frequently detected in Europe (7.07%), East Asia (6.09%), and Latin America (5.24%), and least frequently, in South Asia (just 1.59%).

Regional landscape

In addition to the tracking services detected everywhere in the world, there were players of comparable size that did appear in most, but not all, TOP 25 rankings and local giants that dominated individual regions or countries. We will cover these below.

Europe

The aforementioned global tracking services held the top three places in Europe: Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) (21.39%), Google Analytics (15.23%), and Criteo (7.07%). Facebook Custom Audiences was fifth, with 5.29%, Google AdSense was seventh, with 3.59%, and YouTube Analytics eleventh, with 2.97%. Trackers owned by five other major companies occupied the fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth positions in our rankings.

TOP 25 tracking services in Europe, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Amazon Technologies, which accounted for 6.31% of total detections associated with prevalent trackers in Europe, stands for trackers operated by Amazon Advertising, an Amazon subsidiary that collects and analyzes user data to help their clients to connect with consumers, in addition to placing ads in all Amazon services. This is essentially a classic advertising giant similar to Google Marketing Platform and Criteo. Amazon trackers will come up more than once in other regional TOP 25 rankings.

Index Exchange, the Canadian-based global advertising marketplace with a 4.12% percent share in Europe, is another such giant.

Bing Ads, with a share of 3.45%, was another tracking service popular in the region. It provides search query analysis and displays ads in the Bing search engine. It was followed by Adloox (3.21%), which we covered in the previous review, and Improve Digital (3.17%), a Dutch advertising platform.

Facebook was the fifteenth most popular tracking service in the region, with 1.96%. This is another Meta service, which tracks Facebook account activity, such as logins and interaction with plugins and Like buttons on other websites. The service features in the TOP 25 almost in every region, with the exception of North America, Russia and Iran.

Certain tracking services, such as Meetrics (DoubleVerify), with a share of 1.28%, and Virtual Minds, with a share of 1.39%, feature in the European TOP 25 only. This is hardly surprising, as both companies are headquartered in Germany.

Africa

The familiar advertising giants occupied the top four positions in Africa. Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) had a huge share of 25.37%. Google Analytics was second, with 16.56%. YouTube Analytics and Facebook Custom Audiences were detected in 5.97% and 5.90% of total cases, respectively.

TOP 25 tracking services in Africa, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

The fifth place was taken by Yahoo Web Analytics, with a share of 4.86%. This is a service that collects and analyzes data on Yahoo users. The presence of Yahoo Web Analytics in a regional TOP 25 is an indication that Yahoo services are popular in that region.

It is worth noting that the African TOP 25 included none of the tracking services popular in that region exclusively.

The Middle East

The six global tracking services occupied the top six positions in the Middle East. Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) accounted for almost one-third (32.84%) of the total detections of the region’s most popular tracking services. Google Analytics trackers were detected in 16.44% of cases; YouTube Analytics trackers, in 8.04%; аnd Google AdSense trackers, in 5.27%. Google is evidently the biggest collector of user data in the Middle East.

TOP 25 tracking services in the Middle East, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

There is a certain country in the region whose TOP 25 statistics we would like to consider separately because of a unique advertising market and hence, an online tracking landscape different from the rest of the Middle East.

Iran

Iran is the only country on our list where Google Analytics accounted for 50.72% of the total detections associated with the 25 leading tracking services. Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) accounted for 11.76%.

TOP 25 tracking services in Iran, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Iran also has local tracking services that internet users there encounter fairly often. For instance, the advertising agency SabaVision, with a share of 4.62%, was third in the rankings and the advertising platform Yektan was fifth, with 3.90%.

Latin America

The tracking landscape in Latin America was not drastically different from the rest of the world. Again, Google, Facebook, and Criteo occupied the leading positions. They were followed by Yahoo Web Analytics (3.48%), trackers operated by the US analytics company Chartbeat (3.00%), Twitter (2.65%), and Amazon Technologies (2.62%).

TOP 25 tracking services in Latin America, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

North America

The share of Google’s global tracking services was comparatively small in North America, as the charts in the first part of this report show. Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) accounted for 18.22% of total detections in August 2021 — August 2022, which was the second smallest figure in terms of its regional shares. The North American share of YouTube Analytics trackers was their smallest altogether. This was due to the heavy presence of trackers operated by other companies: Amazon Technologies (6.90%), Yahoo Web Analytics (5.67%), and Adloox (5.57%). These companies created a more competitive environment, which resulted in the share of each tracking service in the total DNT detections being smaller.

TOP 25 tracking services in North America, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

In addition to other regions’ leaders, the North American TOP 25 featured a few that only made the local rankings. Examples included the Canadian advertising ecosystem Sharethrough with a share of 1.99% and the American advertising company The Trade Desk, which accounted for 1.65% of the detections.

Oceania

Every well-known global web tracking service was represented in Oceania. Interestingly enough, Oceania and North America were the only two regions where trackers by Tremor Video, a company that specializes in video advertising, made their way into the TOP 25, with the shares of 1.15% and 2.54%, respectively.

TOP 25 tracking services in Oceania, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

The CIS

The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) is a fairly interesting region that has a variety of local tracking services. It comprises diverse countries, each with its distinctive internet regulations and restrictions, which certainly affects the presence of advertising companies. We will start by looking at the aggregate statistics for the CIS exclusive of Russia, as that country dominates the market, distorting other countries’ statistical data somewhat.

TOP 25 tracking services in the CIS (excluding Russia), August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

The CIS was the only region at hand dominated by a local internet giant, rather than the Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick). Yandex.Metrika, with a share of 19.24%, topped the rankings of trackers popular in the region. Google’s tracking services occupied second (16.17%) and third (13.14%) places.

The Mediascope research company was fourth, with 5.55%. Besides collecting and analyzing user data for marketing purposes, Mediascope is the organization officially designated to evaluate the size of television channel audiences, and sending reports to Roskomnadzor, Russia’s mass media regulator.

Other tracking services specific to the CIS are the web counter Yadro.ru (4.88%), the ad management platform AdFox (4.68%), Russian ad tech company Buzzoola (3.03%), the ad management and audit service Adriver (2.74%), Between Digital (2.23%), Rambler Internet Holdings (1.95%), VK (ex-Mail.Ru Group, 1.92%), VKontakte (1.86%), AdMixer (1.70%), originally from Russia but now headquartered in London, and Uniontraff.com (1.03%).

Thus, 12 out of 25 most widely used web tracking services in the CIS (exclusive of Russia) were endemic to the market.

Russian Federation

Most of the tracking services that made the TOP 25 in Russia are homegrown. Yandex.Metrika and Mediascope, mentioned above, were first and second, respectively, with 19.73% and 12.51%. Google Analytics (8.83%) and Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick, 6.59%) occupied the third and fourth positions, their respective shares fairly low in comparison to the Russia-less CIS average of 13.14% and 16.17% respectively. The rest of the top positions went to local Russian tracking services.

TOP 25 tracking services in Russia, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

East Asia

The East Asian landscape did not differ drastically from the rest of the world. It featured mostly the same tracking services as other parts of the globe. However, there were two exceptions: Japan and Korea. We singled out these countries as separate research entities to demonstrate their distinctive features and the maturity of local advertising companies, which were, by and large, the key user data collectors and analysts there.

Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) featured quite prominently in the East Asian TOP 25 rankings with a 27.62% share, followed by Google Analytics (16.13%) and Facebook Custom Audiences (6.65%). YouTube Analytics had a share of 6.54%, and Yahoo Web Analytics, 5.79%.

TOP 25 tracking services in East Asia (excluding Japan and Korea), August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Japan

Japan is the only country where Twitter trackers had a fairly high share (11.67%), overtaking both Facebook Custom Audiences (4.43%) and YouTube Analytics (3.24%). Similarly to other major social networks, Twitter tracks user activity on other websites in addition to its own. One of the tracking tools is Twitter Pixel, which owners can embed into their websites. Twitter trackers notably featured in the TOP 25 rankings of every region and country covered by the report, with the exception of Russia, where this service is blocked.

TOP 25 tracking services in Japan, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

In addition to the global companies, the TOP 25 rankings for Japan featured local tracking services. Examples include trackers operated by the Japanese marketing and advertising agencies, such as Digital Advertising Consortium Inc (3.01%), Supership (2,86%), I-mobile (2.13%), AdStir (1.44%), Samurai Factory (0.99%), Logly (0.90%), the blogging platform Ameba (1.47%), and the online services vendor LINE Corporation (0.71%).

South Korea

Like Japan, South Korea is a peculiar region with mature local tech companies, which affects tracker distribution. Google led by a fairly wide margin: Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) had a share of 25.49% and Google Analytics 19.74%. Trackers operated by Kakao, Korea’s largest internet company, accounted for as much as 10.90%, pushing it to third place. Kakao’s scale of operations is comparable to Japan’s LINE, Russia’s Yandex or China’s WeChat.

TOP 25 tracking services in South Korea, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

Other Korean tracking services in the TOP 25 were eBay Korea (2.02%) and the targeted advertising service WiderPlanet (1.77%).

South Asia

The South Asian TOP 25 rankings of web tracking services most frequently detected by DNT looked similar to the general global pattern. As in the Middle East, Google Marketing Platform (ex-DoubleClick) had one of the highest shares globally in South Asia, 32.92%.

TOP 25 tracking services in South Asia, August 2021 — August 2022 (download)

The Indian tech and media giant Times Internet, which was not part of the TOP 25 in any other region of the world, had some presence in South Asia (0.97%).

Conclusion

There are only a few global companies that collect user data in every corner of the world. They are the universally recognized Google and Meta, as well as the advertising giant Criteo, little known to common users. We have seen that the more distinctive the region or country is linguistically, economically, and technologically, the higher the chances are that local companies will have some presence on the market and be able to compete with the global giants. Major local players typically go beyond just advertising and marketing to be providers of diverse online services on their home markets. For example, Korea’s Kakao, Japan’s LINE, and Russia’s Yandex are not just internet giants but key regional services that provide the population with all that it needs: from email and instant messaging to food delivery. As they collect and analyze user data, they naturally pursue the same objectives as the global giants.

Being aware that your online activity is tracked is no fun. Unfortunately, you cannot fully protect yourself against tracking — you can only minimize the amount of data that a company tracking you will obtain. That is also important, though: the less information on you is collected beyond your control, the less painful potential future leakages would be. There are various types of technical tools to protect you from web tracking. For instance, VPN changes your IP address, thus distorting to a degree the digital profile of you that marketing companies strive to build. Anti-tracking browser extensions like DNT block trackers while you surf the web, preventing companies from finding out what websites you use and how. You can also reduce the risk by sharing only the data that services need to function. That will not stop them from collecting your data, but it can significantly reduce the scope of the information that companies have about you.



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