08 December 2020, North Rhine-Westphalia, Mönchengladbach: Robots transport goods to employees … [+] in the warehouse of a logistics center of the Amazon mail order business. A particularly large number of orders are processed during the Christmas season. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd / dpa (Photo by Rolf Vennenbernd / Image alliance via Getty Images)

dpa / image alliance via Getty Images

The company most likely to follow you on the internet remains Google. But the tech company on its tail is no longer Facebook – the privacy villain of many people and the target of a widespread lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission and almost any state that would force its separation – but Amazon.

That finding comes from a report released Thursday morning by Ghostery, the New York-based developer of privacy tools. Tracking the Trackers 2020 cites data collected by its privacy apps from 1.96 billion page loads to give Amazon a runner-up trophy and move Facebook to third.

“In 2020, Amazon outperformed Facebook in tracking reach in the US, achieving a tracker reach of 29.4%, Facebook only 23%,” the report said. That was almost tripling the share calculated by Ghostery from 2017, when its trackers showed up on 10.5% of the pages. This put it in fifth place after Google, Facebook, the market analysis company comScore and Twitter.

“For Amazon, not only are they improving data collection and tracking, but also consuming a larger chunk of the Internet,” said Jeremy Tillman, president of Ghostery, in an interview on Wednesday.

The report classifies seven different types of trackers. As Ghostery’s WhoTracksMe site notes, not all of them have the same privacy implications.

• Amazon Advertising Trackers perform ad targeting and analysis

• Amazon Cloudfront trackers provide routine site operation services to websites that use Amazon’s hosting services.

• Amazon Web Services trackers do the same basic job (“AWS” is a huge and growing part of Amazon’s business as we are occasionally reminded when an outage occurs and everything from major websites to robotic vacuum cleaners goes down).

• Amazon CDN trackers help websites use Amazon’s web services again, in this case the content distribution network.

• Amazon Payments trackers support Amazon’s customer interactions.

• Amazon.com trackers are displayed across the web to rate your interests.

• Amazon Associates trackers also collect data for marketing from Amazon.

(Trackers include cookies, the small text files that websites can store in your browser, but also tiny pixels and other invisible or almost invisible page elements that third parties can use to observe you there.)

Tillman commented that unlike its two biggest competitors in advertising, Amazon uses advertising tracking. Facebook and Google are more focused on gathering insights that they can sell to other merchants who want us to buy their products.

“It’s different with Amazon,” he said. “Because they want you to go to Amazon and buy that thing. You want to expand your data pool. ”

Google continues to dominate this field. Ghostery found its trackers on 80.3% of websites worldwide – 81% in the European Union and 79.5% in the US – in the same way that Google rules online display advertising.

(I asked Amazon, Facebook, and Google if they have any issues with the results or Ghostery’s methodology and will update this with their responses.)

This suggests that the EU’s touted general data protection regulation didn’t do much to reduce Google’s reach.

“It’s hard to say that GDPR had a huge impact on the prosecution,” said Tillman. The main effect he identified was squeezing out smaller players to leave fewer overall trackers per page – and Google still prevailing.

“You are now presenting yourself to both marketers and publishers as the GDPR-style solution to this problem,” he said. “If you’re Google, you’re fine.”

Tillman said he had also seen little impact so far from the not-so-comprehensive privacy provisions in California’s consumer protection act. Marketers have previously reported that vanishingly few people use the “don’t sell my personal information” links that link the CCPA mandates.

Instead of a national data protection law in the USA, the other form of meaningful data protection regulations comes from browser developers. Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari both block a variety of trackers, including those that do behavioral advertising.

Apple’s tracking protection is done at the device level through an algorithm that is run separately by each copy of Safari, while Firefox uses a list of known trackers compiled by Disconnect, a San Francisco-based developer of privacy tools.

The copy of Safari on my iPad shows Amazon’s ad trackers at number 13 on the blacklist.

A copy of Firefox on my Windows laptop didn’t report that those same Amazon trackers were blocked, but Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim said the block list stops the cookies set by this tracking service, even if the actual request is made passes through. Arthur Edelstein, senior product manager for Firefox privacy and security, confirmed this is how the browser works.

So if you are concerned about tracking Amazon, you may want to spend less time on Google Chrome.

You could also spend less of your gift budget on Amazon – but I know how stressful it is to shop so late in the game, and how appealing it is not to rethink where to shop while the present time arrives.

Revised to correct Tillman’s title.