January 17, 2022

Privacy: “Exposing the Invisible Web: An Analysis of Third-Party HTTP Requests on 1 Million Websites”

The following article was recently published in the International Journal of Communication.


Timothy Libert

Annenberg School for Communication
University of Pennsylvania
International Journal of Communication
Vol. 9 (2015)

This article provides a quantitative analysis of privacy-compromising mechanisms on 1 million popular websites. Findings indicate that nearly 9 in 10 websites leak user data to parties of which the user is likely unaware; more than 6 in 10 websites spawn third- party cookies; and more than 8 in 10 websites load Javascript code from external parties onto users’ computers. Sites that leak user data contact an average of nine external domains, indicating that users may be tracked by multiple entities in tandem. By tracing the unintended disclosure of personal browsing histories on the Web, it is revealed that a handful of U.S. companies receive the vast bulk of user data. Finally, roughly 1 in 5 websites are potentially vulnerable to known National Security Agency spying techniques at the time of analysis.

Note: A preprint version of this article (with a slightly different title) is available via arXiv.
About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.