Exposing the Hidden Web

by Optimization with an Impact (OpIm)

The purpose of this article is to provide a quantitative analysis of privacy-compromising mechanisms on the top 1 million websites as determined by Alexa. It is demonstrated 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. Sites that leak user data contact an average of nine external domains. Most importantly, by tracing the flows of personal browsing histories on the Web, it is possible to discover the corporations that profit from tracking users. Although many companies track users online, the overall landscape is highly consolidated, with the top corporation, Google, tracking users on nearly 8 of 10 sites in the Alexa top 1 million. Finally, by consulting internal NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, it has been determined that roughly one in five websites are potentially vulnerable to known NSA spying techniques at the time of analysis.