To investigate the pervasiveness of online tracking, The Markup researchers spent 18 months building a one-of-a-kind free public tool that can be used to inspect websites for potential privacy violations in real time. Blacklight reveals the trackers loading on any site—including methods created to thwart privacy-protection tools or watch your every scroll and click.
In one study, scanning more than 80,000 of the most popular websites using the Blacklight software, found more than 5,000 were “fingerprinting” users, identifying them even if they block third-party cookies.
The study also found more than 12,000 websites loaded scripts that watch and record all user interactions on a page – including scrolls and mouse movements. It’s called “session recording,” and the study found a higher prevalence of it than researchers had documented before.
74% of sites loaded Google tracking technology, and 33% loaded Facebook trackers. It’s staggering to see the reach of those two Silicon Valley giants – it’s easy to forget they track you even when you’re not using their websites or apps.
Try it out here. Just enter a URL, and you’ll see a real-time count of the ad trackers, third-party cookies, cookie evaders, and keystroke recorders on any given site.
What you find might surprise you. Pet food-maker Purina notched almost every possible kind of tracking Blacklight detects, which Purina can use to learn about the demographics and interests of people, their brand loyalty and even to understand how they use their website. It had 16 ad trackers, 34 third-party cookies, fingerprinting, and monitoring of keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Joe Biden’s website as of Thursday used fewer third-party cookies, 7, than President Trump’s website, 38, according to Blacklight.
Microsoft had 50 third-party cookies. Apple had zero – in fact, it uses no tracking tech at all, according to Blacklight.