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Yes, That Website You’re Visiting Is Probably Tracking You

August 18, 2016, 12:46 AM UTC
A man surfs the internet in Beijing on J
A man surfs the internet in Beijing on June 15, 2009. The designers of controversial Internet filtering software that China has ordered shipped with all new computers said they were trying to fix security glitches in the programme in the latest blow to the plan to include the filtering software with all PCs sold in China from July 1, which has been criticised overseas and even in China as a bid at mass censorship and a threat to personal privacy. Researchers at the University of Michigan who examined the software last week said it contained serious security vulnerabilities that could allow outside parties to take control of computers running it via remote access. Chinese authorities have a history of blocking sites that feature porn or politically unacceptable subjects such as the brutal crackdown on Tiananmen pro-democracy protests in 1989 and the banned spiritual group Falungong. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo by Frederic J. Brown—AFP via Getty Images

If you’re on one of the most popular sites on the web, you are almost certainly being tracked.

That’s according to a new study published by University of Washington researchers, who found that at least three-quarters of the world’s most visited sites use web tracking tools.

The authors used the Internet archive Wayback Machine to trace various sites’ source codes over the years to check for tracking software, according to USA Today, and discovered that the percentage of the world’s 500 most popular websites with web tracking code ballooned from 5% to 75% between 1998 and now. And at least half of those sites have four third-party trackers.

Google’s (GOOG) DoubleClick ad server system was the most common system, found in 15% of sites.

Third-party tracking has exploded in the era of digital commerce as companies scuffle to figure out exactly what types of products and services a user may be interested in so they can better target advertisements to them.

Tech giant Facebook (FB), which recently reported a substantial spike in ad sales, has even announced plans to entice advertisers in emerging markets. Last week, it said it was trying to stop ad blockers from working the site, prompting a rebuke from the popular AdBlock Plus service.