Under the Spotlight: Web Tracking in Indian Partisan News Websites

  • Contributors: Agarwal Vibhor; Vekaria Yash; Agarwal Pushkal; Mahapatra Sangeeta; Set Shounak; Muthiah Sakthi Balan; Sastry Nishanth; Kourtellis Nicolas
  • Year: 2021
  • Venue:
  • Abstract:

    India is experiencing intense political partisanship and sectarian divisions. The paper performs, to the best of our knowledge, the first comprehensive analysis on the Indian online news media with respect to tracking and partisanship. We build a dataset of 103 online, mostly mainstream news websites. With the help of two experts, alongside data from the Media Ownership Monitor, we label these websites according to their partisanship (Left, Right, or Centre). We study and compare user tracking on these sites with different metrics: numbers of cookies, cookie synchronization, device fingerprinting, and invisible pixel-based tracking. We find that Left and Centre websites serve more cookies than Right-leaning websites. However, through cookie synchronization, more user IDs are synchronized in Left websites than Right or Centre. Canvas fingerprinting is used similarly by Left and Right, and less by Centre. Invisible pixel-based tracking is 50% more intense in Centre-leaning websites than Right, and 25% more than Left. Desktop versions of news websites deliver more cookies than their mobile counterparts. A handful of third-parties are tracking users in most websites in this study. This paper demonstrates the intensity of Web tracking happening in Indian news websites and discusses implications for research on overall privacy of users visiting partisan news websites in India.

  • Repository link: http://arxiv.org/abs/2102.03656
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