John Mitchell and I have written a new paper that synthesizes research on policy and technology issues surrounding third-party web tracking. It will appear at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in May.
In the early days of the web, content was designed and hosted by a single person, group, or organization. No longer. Webpages are increasingly composed of content from myriad unrelated “third-party” websites in the business of advertising, analytics, social networking, and more. Third-party services have tremendous value: they support free content and facilitate web innovation. But third-party services come at a privacy cost: researchers, civil society organizations, and policymakers have increasingly called attention to how third parties can track a user’s browsing activities across websites.
This paper surveys the current policy debate surrounding third-party web tracking and explains the relevant technology. It also presents the FourthParty web measurement platform and studies we have conducted with it. Our aim is to inform researchers with essential background and tools for contributing to public understanding and policy debates about web tracking.