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Identifier 000453898
Title The Hitchhiker’s guide to facebook web tracking with invisible pixels and click IDs
Alternative Title Διαδικτυακή παρακολούθηση μέσω αόρατων pixels και αναγνωριστικών κλικ
Author Μπέκος, Πασχάλης Ν.
Thesis advisor Μαρκάτος, Ευάγγελος
Reviewer Κουρτελής, Νικόλαος
Τζίτζικας, Γιάννης
Abstract Over the past years, advertisement companies have used a variety of tracking methods to persistently track users across the web. Such tracking methods usually include first and third-party cookies, cookie synchronization, as well as a variety of fingerprinting mechanisms. To complement these tracking approaches, Facebook (FB) (now Meta) recently introduced a new tagging mechanism that attaches a one-time tag as a URL parameter (namely FBCLID) on outgoing links to other websites. Although such a tag does not seem to have enough information to persistently track users, we demonstrate that despite its ephemeral nature, when combined with FB Pixel, it can aid in persistently monitoring user browsing behavior across i) di↵erent websites, ii) di↵erent actions on each website, iii) time, i.e., both in the past as well as in the future.We refer to this online monitoring of users as FB web tracking. We find that FB Pixel tracks a wide range of user activities on websites with alarming detail, especially on websites classified as sensitive categories under GDPR. Also, we show how the FBCLID tag can be used to match, and thus de-anonymize, activities of online users performed in the distant past (even before those users had a FB account) tracked by FB Pixel. In fact, by combining this tag with cookies that have rolling expiration dates, FB can also keep track of users’ browsing activities in the future as well. Our experimental results suggest that 23% of the 10k most popular websites have adopted this technology, and can contribute to this activity tracking on the web. Furthermore, our longitudinal study shows that this type of user activity tracking can go as far back as 2015 or even as 2013 (when the precursor of this technology was first introduced by FB). To put it simply, if a user creates for the first time a FB account today, the platform could match their past web browsing activity, collected in anonymous form, to their newly created FB profile, from as far back as at least 2015 and continue tracking their activity in the future.
Language English
Subject Cookies
Issue date 2023-04-07
Collection   School/Department--School of Sciences and Engineering--Department of Computer Science--Post-graduate theses
  Type of Work--Post-graduate theses
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