Reuters Institute Reports Shows 22% Drop in Third-Party Cookies on EU News Sites Post-GDPR

The result of a recent study by the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford indicates that the number of tracking cookies on EU news sites has decreased by 22% since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on May 25 this year.

The study examined cookie usage across EU news sites both before the introduction of the GDPR, in April, and after it became enforceable, in July 2018. Researchers from the Institute reviewed 200 news sites in total, from seven countries —Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK.

Following completion of the study, the results showed that the sharpest drop was recorded in the UK, where news sites are now utilizing  45% less tracking cookies than before the introduction of GDPR. At the other end of the scale German news sites showed the smallest change with 6% fewer cookies in July than in the number detected in April.

Speaking to technology news website SiliconRepublic co-author Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen said the results are significant. “News sites, especially those based on advertising, are particularly dependent on third parties for many critical features ranging from monetisation to social sharing, and thus the question of how they deal with GDPR is both important and indicative of wider response.

“We find a clear decline in volume of third-party content, but also interesting that – with the partial exception of Facebook – the biggest ‘losers’ in terms of reach have been adtech companies outside the top three, not the biggest US-based tech firms.”

A 27% decrease was also detected in news sites using tracking cookies related to website design and optimization tools the most. There was also a 14% drop in cookie deployments among advertising and marketing tools saw a 14% drop in cookie deployments and a corresponding 9% decrease in social media – the percentage of websites using Facebook and Twitter social buttons fell went down from 84% to 77% from April to July.

Despite these changes the usual suspect still appear at the top of the most used trackign servuces, including Google (96pc), Facebook (70pc) and Amazon (57pc). Only 1% of EU news sites stopped using Google cookies, 5% Facebook cookies, and 2% Amazon cookies. The study found that most of the EU news sites that stopped using cookies stopped using lesser known services as opposed to the more well-known organizations.

Researchers said that news organizations continued to use cookies, however a 22% drop in the number of cookies was reported across EU news sites. A miniscule 1% drop was reported in the use of tracking cookies between April and July, falling just from 99% to 98%.

This shows that while some EU news sites reviewed what they were tracking, they opted to continue tracking users, but in a smaller degree.

The researchers, commenting on the release of the report, said “We may be observing a kind of ‘housecleaning’ effect. Modern websites are highly complex and evolve over time in a path-dependent way, sometimes accumulating out-of-date features and code,” researchers said. “The introduction of GDPR may have provided news organizations with a chance to evaluate the utility of various features, including third-party services, and to remove code which is no longer of significant use or which compromises user privacy.