Web tracking: WhoTracks.me reveals which big corporations are spying on you

It is often difficult to determine which company is behind a specific tracker. The transparency tool WhoTracks.me brings light into the darkness.


Björn GreifEditor

There are countless trackers on the web who track users’ browsing behavior – often without them noticing anything about it. The aim is usually to create detailed user profiles for marketing purposes. Whoever is behind the many different tracker domains is often difficult or even impossible to determine. Mergers and acquisitions are hiding who actually is tracking you.

One example of how many trackers lead you down a ‘rabbit hole’ of mergers and acquisitions until you find the company above it all is Nexage. They were acquired by Millennial Media in 2014, who were acquired by AOL in 2015, who were acquired by Verizon also in 2015. Nexage’s landing page now redirects to One by AOL.

WhoTracks.me took a closer look at the trackers in its database that belong to Verizon: They found ten different trackers, of which eight belong to AOL and two to Yahoo. AOL and Yahoo themselves operate under the umbrella of Oath Inc. aka Verizon Digital Network. Above it all is Verizon Communications.

Verizon's trackers (Bild: WhoTracks.me)

Furthermore, Yahoo and AOL both have popular web portals (yahoo.com, aol.com and aol.de) to drive more traffic which they can track. This leads Verizon to be able to track at least 6% of web traffic, the 11th highest reach of any company in WhoTracks.me’s dataset. You can check the full list of companies sorted by their trackers’ combined reach here.

Another example of a smaller company with giants hiding behind it is Smarter Travel Media, a new entry at 546 in WhoTracks.me’s ranking of the 600 most prevalent trackers. Smarter Travel Media’s tracker is primarily present on TripAdvisor and other travel sites, and, in fact, they are a TripAdvisor company. TripAdvisor in turn is owned by Expedia. Above all of this stands InterActiveCorp (IAC) who own several other web brands, including Vimeo and Mindspark.

IAC (Bild: WhoTracks.me)

With the Cliqz Browser for Windows and macOS you can easily check which company is behind a specific tracker. Open the Control Center (Q-menu in the address bar) and click on “Anti-Tracking”. Cliqz will then display all the tracking companies found on the web page you just opened. Clicking a company will take you to the corresponding entry in WhoTracks.me’s database.

WhoTracks.me builds upon the anti-tracking technology that powers Cliqz and Ghostery. The most comprehensive transparency tool for online-tracking on the web provides structured information on tracking technologies, market structure and data-sharing on the web. WhoTracks.me also provides detailed tracker profiles as well as rankings and publishes studies that highlight interesting anomalies discovered in the tracker data. The data on trackers and websites as shown on WhoTracks.me is open-sourced on GitHub.