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Could we do better? Behavioural tracking on recommended consumer health websites

25 Jun 2015

Abstract
Objective

This study examines behavioural tracking practices on consumer health websites, contrasting tracking on sites recommended by information professionals with tracking on sites returned by Google.

Methods

Two lists of consumer health websites were constructed: sites recommended by information professionals and sites returned by Google searches. Sites were divided into three groups according to source (Recommended-Only, Google-Only or both) and type (Government, Not-for-Profit or Commercial). Behavioural tracking practices on each website were documented using a protocol that detected cookies, Web beacons and Flash cookies. The presence and the number of trackers that collect personal information were contrasted across source and type of site; a second set of analyses specifically examined Advertising trackers.

Results

Recommended-Only sites show lower levels of tracking – especially tracking by advertisers – than do Google-Only sites or sites found through both sources. Government and Not-for-Profit sites have fewer trackers, particularly from advertisers, than do Commercial sites.

Conclusions

Recommended sites, especially those from Government or Not-for-Profit organisations, present a lower privacy threat than sites returned by Google searches. Nonetheless, most recommended websites include some trackers, and half include at least one Advertising tracker.

Implications

To protect patron privacy, information professionals should examine the tracking practices of the websites they recommend.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Health Information & Libraries Journal