The Unwanted Sharing Economy: An Analysis of Cookie Syncing and User Transparency under GDPR

Tobias Urban, Dennis Tatang, Martin Degeling, Thorsten Holz, Norbert Pohlmann

Technical Report, arXiv:1811.08660, November 2018


Abstract

The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in May 2018, leads to important changes in this area: companies are now required to ask for users' consent before collecting and sharing personal data and by law users now have the right to gain access to the personal information collected about them. In this paper, we study and evaluate the effect of the GDPR on the online advertising ecosystem. In a first step, we measure the impact of the legislation on the connections (regarding cookie syncing) between third-parties and show that the general structure how the entities are arranged is not affected by the GDPR. However, we find that the new regulation has a statistically significant impact on the number of connections, which shrinks by around 40%. Furthermore, we analyze the right to data portability by evaluating the subject access right process of popular companies in this ecosystem and observe differences between the processes implemented by the companies and how they interpret the new legislation. We exercised our right of access under GDPR with 36 companies that had tracked us online. Although 32 companies (89%) we inquired replied within the period defined by law, only 21 (58%) finished the process by the deadline set in the GDPR. Our work has implications regarding the implementation of privacy law as well as what online tracking companies should do to be more compliant with the new regulation.

[arXiv]

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