The web’s most invasive cookies

Ivan Dimitrov | 7th July 2021

Cookies. They might be one of the internet’s most annoying pop-ups, but what do they actually do every time we click ‘accept’?

We’ve trawled the web to see which cookies are collecting the most data, and what that little box actually means everytime we agree to it.

Do they actually improve our online experience, and which sites are making the most from the data you give them?

If you’d rather your data stayed out of other people’s hand, our secure cloud storage systems could be just what you need.

The websites that track you the most

We analysed 88 websites to see which one was tracking and collecting your data across the furthest digital distance. A tracker is a type of cookie that sits on your computer and follows you as you visit different websites. They help companies understand your online activity, allowing them to tailor their services to meet your needs and ultimately sell you more products.

Here’s who does it the most:

The top 20 companies your data is being collected by
  1. 1. Google tracks you more than any other website

    It might come as no surprise to see that Google uses more trackers than anyone else. The search engine giant’s trackers were seen 262 times on the 88 websites analysed, following you around as you engage with its search results to see if it provided the answers you were after.

    It uses cookie data to help web owners make their websites better. For example, if you click on a search result then instantly leave that page, Google’s cookies will say that website shouldn’t be ranking so highly for that search term.

    Google tracks you the most online and makes up 26.65% of all tracking cookies found on the 88 websites. They really want to know what you’re up to.

  2. 2. Facebook’s trackers were seen 107 times across all the websites

    Not only is Facebook the world’s biggest social media site, it’s also a global advertising platform, which is why it’s trackers were found 107 times on websites like HSBC and The Sun to understand your interests. If you’ve ever wondered why ads appear on Facebook for things you’ve just looked at, now you know.

    10.89% of all tracking cookies seen on websites belong to Facebook.

  3. 3. Adobe’s trackers were found 69 times

    You might not think of Adobe as a site that cares too much about what you’re up to, but with 69 found tracking users data over 88 sites, they definitely do. The makers of Photoshop depend on people downloading their tools and using their stock images, so keep an eye on what you’re up to in order to keep them front of mind.

    Of all the trackers online, 7.02% are owned by Adobe.

The top websites for tracking cookies

Rank Website Total Number of Trackers seen on all websites % of all trackers
1 Google 262 26.65%
2 Facebook 107 10.89%
3 Adobe 69 7.02%
4 Twitter 44 4.48%
5 Microsoft 34 3.46%
6 Snapchat 24 2.44%
7 New Relic 22 2.24%
8 Tealium 21 2.14%
9 Criteo 20 2.03%
10 Verizon Media 19 1.93%
11 LivePerson 16 1.63%
12 Awin 16 1.63%
13 Oracle 14 1.42%
14 AppNexus 14 1.42%
15 Akamai 12 1.22%
16 11 1.12%
17 LinkedIn 11 1.12%
18 Hotjar 11 1.12%
19 comScore 11 1.12%
20 Amazon 11 1.12%
21 ContentSquare 10 1.02%
22 AppDynamics 9 0.92%
23 The Neilsen Company 7 0.71%
24 The Trade Desk 7 0.71%
25 The Rubicon Project 6 0.61%
26 TrustArc 6 0.61%
27 Trustpilot 6 0.61%
28 Teads 6 0.61%
29 Signal Digital 6 0.61%
30 Qualtrics 6 0.61%

The websites sharing your data

Not all websites use cookies to collect your data for themselves. Many will sell it on to third parties, using your data as a further source of revenue. While you might accept cookies on one site, they allow companies to share your information with many more.

The websites sharing your data the most

The top 30 websites sharing your data most

Rank Website Name No. Trackers
1 The Sun 31
2 AOL 29
3 Pandora 25
4 Urban Outfitters 24
5 The Daily Mail 23
6 BT 23
7 Virgin Media 23
8 Talk Talk 22
9 Jet2 21
10 Adidas 20
11 Citi 20
12 Argos 18
13 Deliveroo 18
14 ESPN 18
15 HSBC 18
16 Nike 18
17 Shopify 18
18 Uber Eats 18
19 Vodafone 18
20 Disney+ 17
21 Skybet 17
22 Trainline 17
23 New Look 16
24 Soundcloud 15
25 ASOS 14
26 isawitfirst 14
27 Matalan 14
28 Moonpig 14
29 Hermes 13
30 Nowtv 13

The Sun shares more data than anyone else

News website The Sun uses 31 trackers to collect data to sell. The Sun makes a fair share of its money through advertising, and will sell on data about how you interact with its content to the highest bidders.

In second place is AOL. Once the world’s leading internet provider, AOL is now more of a news site, and uses 29 trackers to pass on your data to other companies.

Completing the top three is a name that might surprise you - Pandora. Famed for their bracelets, Pandora encourages more than just the collection of charms, using 25 trackers to add to their data banks.

Not far behind is another high street staple, this time Urban Outfitters. They use 24 trackers to collect information about you ready to sell on, followed closely by The Daily Mail who use 23.

The cookies that track you the longest

The cookies that track you the longest image

Once a cookie has been saved onto your device, it can’t be hard to get rid of. Some trackers are built to last, with companies like Uber and Just Eat using them to track your location and provide their services whenever you need them.

Rank Company Hours cookies track for Days your data is held
1 Uber 795,047 33,127
2 Sky 788,672 32,861
3 Wish 788,039 32,835
4 Slack 787,939 32,831
5 Just Eat 34,537 1,439
6 Bumble 20,317 847
7 Nike 12,389 516
8 Argos 10,924 455
9 TalkTalk 7,157 298
10 Bank of America 7,023 293

Uber stores your data the longest, tracking things like your location and payment details to allow them to pick you up whenever you are, while Sky comes in second, storing your data for over 90 years in total.

In third place is popular retailer Wish who track your data for commercial and advertising reasons most probably while business messenger tool Slack stores your data for a total 32,861 days.

The sites where your data is safest

The sites where your data is safest

Not all websites want to sell your information. In fact, some of the biggest sites in the world barely sell any data at all, using their cookies purely to improve their own offering instead of anyone else’s.

Rank Website Name No. Trackers
1 Facebook 1
2 PayPal 1
3 Prime Video 1
4 Twitter 1
5 YouTube 1
6 Amazon 2
7 Google 2
8 Instagram 2
9 Mozilla 2
10 Netflix 2

Big social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook only use one tracking cookie to sell information, while Tinder, Netflix and Instagram only use two.

While you might find they use your information for themselves (such as matching you to singles in your area), they won’t use it to help other people, meaning you only get the services you think you’re signing up for.

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To collect this data, we looked at the homepage for each website and used ScreamingFrog to analyse the cookies present. The cookies are those that are already active before pushing the 'accept cookies' button. The time each cookie holds your data was also collected, this was then averaged out to calculate the average time your data is held on each website. Apple trackers were also collected using Safaris tracking tool which shows the number of "trackers blocked" on each page

Using Safari's tracker monitoring feature, we visited 88 websites and collected the data on
- Number of trackers blocked on each website
- Number of trackers each company has across all websites

Some companies (such as Google) had multiple trackers on one website

The % of all trackers was calculated by dividing the number of trackers for each "tracker owner" by the total number of the trackers found across each of the 88 websites.

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