Under the Spotlight: Web Tracking in Indian Partisan News Websites

by   Vibhor Agarwal, et al.

India is experiencing intense political partisanship and sectarian divisions. The paper performs, to the best of our knowledge, the first comprehensive analysis on the Indian online news media with respect to tracking and partisanship. We build a dataset of 103 online, mostly mainstream news websites. With the help of two experts, alongside data from the Media Ownership Monitor of the Reporters without Borders, we label these websites according to their partisanship (Left, Right, or Centre). We study and compare user tracking on these sites with different metrics: numbers of cookies, cookie synchronizations, device fingerprinting, and invisible pixel-based tracking. We find that Left and Centre websites serve more cookies than Right-leaning websites. However, through cookie synchronization, more user IDs are synchronized in Left websites than Right or Centre. Canvas fingerprinting is used similarly by Left and Right, and less by Centre. Invisible pixel-based tracking is 50 more than Left. Desktop versions of news websites deliver more cookies than their mobile counterparts. A handful of third-parties are tracking users in most websites in this study. This paper, by demonstrating intense web tracking, has implications for research on overall privacy of users visiting partisan news websites in India.


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