May 28, 2022

Research Article: Third Party Tracking in the Mobile Ecosystem (Preprint)

The following research article (version 3) was shared on arXiv.


Third Party Tracking in the Mobile Ecosystem


Reuben Binns
University of Oxford

Ulrik Lyngs
University of Oxford

Max Van Kleek
University of Oxford

Jun Zhao
University of Oxford

Timothy Libert
University of Oxford

Nigel Shadbolt
University of Oxford


via arXiv
October 18, 2018


Third party tracking allows companies to identify users and track their behaviour across multiple digital services. This paper presents an empirical study of the prevalence of third-party trackers on 959,000 apps from the US and UK Google Play stores. We find that most apps contain third party tracking, and the distribution of trackers is long-tailed with several highly dominant trackers accounting for a large portion of the coverage. The extent of tracking also differs between categories of apps; in particular, news apps and apps targeted at children appear to be amongst the worst in terms of the number of third party trackers associated with them. Third party tracking is also revealed to be a highly trans-national phenomenon, with many trackers operating in jurisdictions outside the EU. Based on these findings, we draw out some significant legal compliance challenges facing the tracking industry

Direct to Full Text Article (9 pages; PDF)(preprint)

UPDATE: October 23, 2018 This preprint is discussed in the Financial Times article, “How smartphone apps track users and share data” (subscribers only or via library database)

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Gary Price ( 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, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.