Almost All COVID-19 Data Websites Secretly Track Users

European Research Council uncovered the tracking in a new study.

QUICK FACTS:
  • According to the European Research Council (ERC), the vast majority of government COVID-19 websites use third-party trackers.
  • The tracking is allegedly taking place without the user’s consent, according to a recent paper titled “Measuring Web Cookies in Governmental Websites.”
  • The European Research Council (ERC), the European Union, and the Spanish government all contributed to funding the report.
  • The study checked three types of websites, including the sites of “G20” countries, international groups, such as the United Nations, and popular websites used for COVID-19 information. 
  • “Web cookies have been exploited to collect information about users’ online activities and interests,” notes the paper.
  • Researchers confirmed that 90 percent of government websites in the “G20” countries and the European Union added cookies without user consent.
STUDY RESULTS:
  • “A potential risk from e-governance is that since it represents a unique point of interaction for mandatory and indispensable services for all citizens, it can, unintentionally or not, become a single point of monitoring and tracking for the entire population of a country. A readily available way to achieve that is with the use of Web cookies,” the paper cautioned readers.
  • “Our results show that, unfortunately, tracking is a serious concern, as in some countries up to 90% of these websites create cookies of third-party trackers without any consent from users,” a summary of the findings explained.
  • “Non-session cookies, that are created by trackers and can last for days or months, are widely present even in countries with strict user privacy laws. We also show that the above is a problem for official websites of international organizations and popular websites that inform the public about the COVID-19 pandemic,” the summary continues.
BACKGROUND:
  • This data, particularly the non-session cookies, could be considered a violation of privacy for users who have not consented to be tracked.
  • Previous studies have shown widespread cookie use on various websites, but none have measured their use on government websites until now.
  • The research was created for the purpose of putting pressure on governments to set an example of appropriate tracking practices.