A new study has uncovered what might be one of the least surprising revelations of the decade: Google follows you all over the internet, whether you know about it or not. Earlier this year, Princeton researchers completed the largest online tracking study ever conducted, and found traces of Google code on a vast majority of the web’s million most popular websites.
Combing through the study, MIT Technology Review discovered that the Google Analytics traffic reporting service could be found on nearly 70% of the million sites, while around 50% were found to use Google’s DoubleClick ad service. In fact, each of the top five most common tracking tools were owned by Google.
Using the open source OpenWPM measurement tool, the researchers were also able to observe several different “fingerprinting” techniques, which allow companies to track visitors as they move around the internet.
One such technique allows a company to send an audio signal to your browser and then identify your computer. It takes just seconds to complete — you can actually AudioContext fingerprint yourself at this link.
All of this might sound terrifying, but as assistant professor Arvind Narayanan and graduate student Steven Englehardt explain, the preeminence of Google, Facebook and others like them means that we only have a few major companies that we need to keep track of, rather than hundreds or thousands of smaller companies.
“Only a small number of companies have trackers that are really prevalent,” says Narayanan. “This suggests that external oversight and public pressure can lead to positive change.”