Notified but Unaware: Third Party Tracking Online

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Drawing from conceptual studies on transparency, particularly with regards to market complexity, user literacy and resignation, this article studies and analyses the practices of third-party data collection online. Empirically, the extent to which there are third-party trackers on a sample of Swedish websites in five sectors (media, retail, banking/insurance, public sector, and health) is measured and the trackers are compared to lists of known trackers to determine their main purpose. These results are then used in digital focus groups divided into high-trust and low-trust individuals, to stimulate a dialogue and to better understand how the tracking infrastructure is perceived and managed by everyday consumers. The main results indicate that third-party tracking is omni-present online, particularly for media and retail sites, showing that data-driven markets depend on the collection, sharing and trade of consumers’ personal data. Furthermore, even though the regulatory development in the EU in recent years have imposed requirements, particularly through the General Data Protection Regulation, regarding clearer notifications and designs to create more active choices by individual website visitors, a majority of users are still highly unaware of the data collection practices and their underlying purposes. The consent base for data collection seems flawed in this context, indicating that the market structure and data collecting practices are black boxes in themselves, leading to a risk that users and consumers may be either exploited or manipulated. Therefore, we recommend more active supervisory authorities, and more stringent requirements primarily in relation to the obscure ad tech infrastructures to improve transparency and promote consumer awareness.


External organisations
  • Linköping University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Law and Society
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Other Engineering and Technologies not elsewhere specified


  • cookies, third party tracking, consumer awareness, data-driven markets, data driven complexity, ad markets, trust and digital markets, digital data-collecting practices, GDPR
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Analysis of Law
Publication statusSubmitted - 2021
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Stefan Larsson, Associate Professor in Technology and Social Change at LTH, Lund University, Sweden; Anders Jensen-Urstad,; Fredrik Heintz, Associate Professor in Computer Science at Linköping University, Sweden. Acknowledgements: This work was partially supported by i) the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program – Humanities and Society (WASP-HS) funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation, ii) the Swedish Competition Authority, as well as iii) The Swedish Retail and Wholesale Council.

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