User Tracking in the Post-cookie Era: How Websites Bypass GDPR Consent to Track Users

  • Contributors: Emmanouil Papadogiannakis , Panagiotis Papadopoulos , Nicolas Kourtellis , Evangelos P. Markatos
  • Year: 2021
  • Venue: WWW '21: Proceedings of the Web Conference 2021
  • Abstract:

    During the past few years, mostly as a result of the GDPR and the CCPA, websites have started to present users with cookie consent banners. These banners are web forms where the users can state their preference and declare which cookies they would like to accept, if such option exists. Although requesting consent before storing any identifiable information is a good start towards respecting the user privacy, yet previous research has shown that websites do not always respect user choices. Furthermore, considering the ever decreasing reliance of trackers on cookies and actions browser vendors take by blocking or restricting third-party cookies, we anticipate a world where stateless tracking emerges, either because trackers or websites do not use cookies, or because users simply refuse to accept any.

    In this paper, we explore whether websites use more persistent and sophisticated forms of tracking in order to track users who said they do not want cookies. Such forms of tracking include first-party ID leaking, ID synchronization, and browser fingerprinting. Our results suggest that websites do use such modern forms of tracking even before users had the opportunity to register their choice with respect to cookies. To add insult to injury, when users choose to raise their voice and reject all cookies, user tracking only intensifies. As a result, users’ choices play very little role with respect to tracking: we measured that more than 75% of tracking activities happened before users had the opportunity to make a selection in the cookie consent banner, or when users chose to reject all cookies.

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