The Internet with Privacy Policies: Measuring The Web Upon Consent

  • Contributors: Nikhil Jha, Martino Trevisan, Luca Vassio, Marco Mellia
  • Year: 2022
  • Venue: ACM Transactions on the Web
  • Abstract:

    To protect user privacy, legislators have regulated the use of tracking technologies, mandating the acquisition of users’ consent before collecting data. As a result, websites started showing more and more consent management modules – i.e., Consent Banners – the visitors have to interact with to access the website content. Since these banners change the content the browser loads, they challenge web measurement collection, primarily to monitor the extent of tracking technologies, but also to measure web performance. If not correctly handled, Consent Banners prevent crawlers from observing the actual content of the websites.
    In this paper, we present a comprehensive measurement campaign focusing on popular websites in Europe and the US, visiting both landing and internal pages from different countries around the world. We engineer Priv-Accept, a Web crawler able to accept the Consent Banners, as most users would do in practice. It lets us compare how webpages change before and after accepting such policies, if present. Our results show that all measurements performed ignoring the Consent Banners offer a biased and partial view of the Web. After accepting the privacy policies, web tracking is far more pervasive, webpages are larger and slower to load.

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