EU member state websites laden with third-party cookies

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 19, 2019

A new report (PDF) reveals that the vast majority of EU member state websites are laden with third-party cookies that are not disclosed to visitors.

Cookiebot, a service to make websites GDPR and EPR compliant, scanned more than 180,000 EU government web pages over the course of two days to analyze cookie behavior on these sites.

It discovered that only three government websites out of of 28 did not contain any third-party tracking cookies. All in all, it discovered 112 different ad tracking companies on EU public sector websites.

Government sites in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain did not contain commercial cookies. France, Latvia, Belgium and Greece sites had more than 15 cookies each during scans, with France taking the crown with 52 different ad trackers found on government web pages.

The findings come as a surprise for two main reasons. First, because one would expect that official government websites follow regulations in regards to cookie usage and tracking to the letter, especially since they expect public sites to do so.  Second, because these sites don't depend on advertising revenue as they are publicly funded.

Cookiebot analyzed public health service sites in six member states in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, and Spain, as well and found a large number of ad trackers in most cases.

ad tracking eu websites

The percentage of landing pages with ad trackers ranged from 73% in Ireland to 33% in Germany. A German public health service site loaded trackers by 63 different tracking companies alone.

The company identified 112 different companies that tracked citizens from the EU that visited the analyzed government or public health service sites. Ten of these could not be identified as they masked their identity according to Cookiebot.

Google dominates the tracking on government and public health sector sites. Three of the top five domains with government site trackers are owned by Google, and two of the top five domains with public health site trackers are owned by the company as well.

Google tracks visits to 82% of the scanned government websites and 43% of the scanned Public Health sector sites.

Top 5 trackers on EU government sites:

  1. YouTube
  2. DoubleClick
  3. Twitter
  4. Google
  5. Facebook

Top 5 trackers on Public Health Service landing pages:

  • DoubleClick
  • Google
  • Adobe
  • AppNexus
  • Mediamath

Why are these trackers on these sites?

Third-party service plugins and embeds are the main way in which trackers landed on government and public health sector websites according to the report.

Examples given include use of analytics software or share plugins, third-party media embeds, or use of third-party galleries or comment plugins.

What can you do about it?

One of the easier options is to block third-party cookies in your browser of choice. In Firefox, you can disable all third-party cookies, or configure Firefox to clear cookies on exit.

Content blockers like uBlock Origin help as well as they block connections to many of these sites automatically and come with options to add undetected connections as well.

Now You: What is your take on this?

EU member state websites laden with third-party cookies
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EU member state websites laden with third-party cookies
A new report (PDF) highlights that the vast majority of EU member state websites are laden with third-party cookies that are not disclosed to visitors.
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  1. Anonymous said on March 20, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Doubleclick, Youtube = Google. AppNexus = AT&T

    So we get Google, Twitter, Facebook, AT&T behind most of it. The usual suspects.

  2. Anonymous said on March 19, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    In France it is the children of 68 who govern. Communists, Maoists, Trotskistes etc, all converted to the american neo conservatism, to the ultra liberalism, just to keep their privileges and to continue to make their disgusting orgies. All media are owned by a few billionaires vampires, nothing suprising if French government sites are full of spies. President Macron’s startupers are the worse in that domain. Vive les Gilets Jaunes.

    1. Tom Hawack said on March 20, 2019 at 9:58 am

      C’est jaune, c’est moche, ça ne va avec rien, mais ça peut vous bousiller une ville.
      A la limite de chez Dior à l’instar de Boris Vian et de son suaire.

      1. Anonymous said on March 20, 2019 at 9:27 pm

        En partie grâce aux mesures fiscales prises en décembre en faveur de l’augmentation du “pouvoir d’achat” et donc grâce aux Gilets jaunes, pour la première fois depuis 13 ans la croissance française est passée devant celle du pays qui a perdu les deux guerres mondiales, l’Allemagne, mais qui gouverne l’Europe du haut de sa Grande Rigueur Budgétaire MaastriChienne, l’Allemagne qui nous a volé notre commerce à l’exportation grâce à la réunification et le dumping social, etc. Une rue aux vitrines détruites aussitôt remplacées pas plus tard que le surlendemain, bientôt défendues par l’armée contre une partie de son peuple en révolte comme s’il s’agissait de terroristes, une situation qui ne fait même pas une brève dans le journal de 20H de France 2 la soi-disant chaine d’info publique. Un président tout puissant qui rame à trouver un parterre d’intellectuels pour débattre sur le sujet, un président omnipotent qui méprise son peuple à coup de petites phrases assassines à longueur de journées, qui plus est systématiquement lors de ses voyages à l’étranger, un président et son mouvement qui n’est même pas un parti politique bafouant l’esprit de la Constitution, un président et son gouvernement qui n’ont de cesse de fracturer la société, d’ériger les citoyens les uns contre les autres, par plaisir sadique de rajouter en permanence de l’huile sur le feu. Un président, sa femme et son ministre de l’intérieur qui rejouent Sodome et Gomorrhe le jour de la fête de la musique sur le perron de l’Elysée, qui ce faisant détruisent bien plus l’image de la République que n’importe quelle flambée de Fouquet’s. Un président qui n’a de cesse de vouloir cracher sur nos tombes. Vive les Gilets Jaunes.

  3. Supergirl said on March 19, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Yeah, Its the same here in the US.
    I was on & National institute of Health’s website
    & uBlock was quite busy.

    It turns my stomach.

  4. Kevin said on March 19, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    That’s nothing. Here in the US, you can get a free phone from the government. And they come with malware preinstalled. I’m talking about software that subverts and overrules the custom homepage you set up in the browser and redirects you to some sketchy game site, and occasionally displays full screen pop up ads while you are using the phone, which you must click the red X on the top of in order to make them go away. The browser homepage redirection happens regardless of what browser you use. (I wonder how malware authors implement that?)

    More info: (not my post)

  5. lebo24 said on March 19, 2019 at 6:08 pm


  6. Julius said on March 19, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    None of this really surprises me. The whole point of GDPR was to “punish” the big companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

    It has little or nothing to do with data privacy.

    The second we connect our computers to the Internet we give up our privacy, whether we like it or not.

    Just my opinion on the matter.

    1. John Fenderson said on March 20, 2019 at 5:15 pm

      @Julius: “The whole point of GDPR was to “punish” the big companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft.”

      Why do you say this? It’s not clear to me that this an accurate representation.

    2. Tom Hawack said on March 20, 2019 at 1:52 am

      @Julius, GDPR is aimed at defending users. Companies who comply have no problems with GDPR, many companies, even big ones, comply and have no problems. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are so huge and powerful that they consider themselves out of the rules. Europe reacts while the rest of the planet quietly accepts financial dictatorship. The new Eldorado is Europe for anyone striving for more justice, that justice qualified by some Americans as socialism. Ha! : the same country which worships Christianity! Was Jesus Christ a communist? America and its incoherence …

      The truth is the entire world including Americans is getting fed up with these companies. It won’t last forever, not in the present terms. Oligarchies are breaking capitalism!

      1. John Fenderson said on March 20, 2019 at 10:36 pm

        @Tom Hawack: “The new Eldorado is Europe for anyone striving for more justice”

        As an American through-and-though, it greatly pains me to have to say that I agree with this assessment. There may be a few non-European nations that are in the same category, but those aren’t the US either.

        There is something else I think is true, too — or at least, I cling to it for emotional sanity: the US has been here before (worse, even), and we managed to pull out of it. We can again.

      2. Tom Hawack said on March 21, 2019 at 11:15 am

        @John Fenderson, “[…]the US has been here before (worse, even), and we managed to pull out of it. We can again.”

        I’m convinced it will, I know it will. I believe you haven’t perceived my above lyricism as basic anti-Americanism but for those who might be they reassured : not at all. As many, as more and more of us I believe, differentiation is clearly established between a State and a nation. I’ve spent my childhood in New York (6-12 years of age), recall happiness and later on analyzed the reasons of this happiness among which a spirit of America I have never ceased to love : multiculturalism, energy and an ambient progressism fed by humanism rather than by religious or political indoctrination. That was NY’s Queens then (in the sixties) more or less relayed as to what I’ve understood by nowadays Brooklyn. Anyway, to make it short(er), I love, I do love America, always have and always will. But America is so powerful that when it coughs the whole planet is ill, hence more prerogatives implies more responsibilities.

        Not to mention that diversity is factual of all countries, it participates to a nation’s cultural wealth. From there on we of course all have our preferences and if there are points I dislike in the U.S. there are as well in other countries, France, Switzerland, Netherlands for those I’ve lived in.

        Refusing this diversity (nationalism, supremacy) is the worse which can happen to a nation and when it comes to America the very contradiction to what has established its power : di-ver-si-ty.

        “the US has been here before (worse, even), and we managed to pull out of it. We can again.”

        Yes. And the irony in terms of geopolitics is that America could very well lead towards a revival of tolerance and humanism while the rest of the planet fall towards introversion and nationalism : America always anticipated.

        Sorry for this speech, off-topic but because my first comment may have been wrongly perceived by some of us I wished to clarify my position. I happen to express moments of fever in ambiguous terms.

      3. John Fenderson said on March 21, 2019 at 4:21 pm

        @Tom Hawack: “I believe you haven’t perceived my above lyricism as basic anti-Americanism”

        You believe correctly. I view criticism of the US as a duty of Americans, and tend to view criticism of the US from non-citizens in a similar way (even when I don’t agree with the criticism). In short, I agree with this quote from Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”:

        “You see, my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out…[T]he citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth’s political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is a traitor.”

        Anyway, yes, I have veered wildly off topic in a way I try very hard not to do, so I’ll stop now. :)

    3. not said on March 19, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      This was true about 10 years ago. Lately even turned off computers can be tracked ;)

      So if you want privacy get rid of your computer, phone or similar device :)

  7. Valrobex said on March 19, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    What comes to mind is that old saying:
    “Do as I say, not as I do!”

    And you are incorrect, Anonymous:
    EVERYONE is watching you!

  8. TelV said on March 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    I misunderstood the article initially. I thought I could just go to the cookiebot site and test a given government site to see whether there are any hidden trackers on it.

    However, it’s not free unfortunately although they’ll allow you one domain provided you give them your email address:

    I have WF configured to delete cookies on exit anyway, but still have to perform a daily cleanup of the C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Roaming\Waterfox\Profiles\{Profile}\storage\default folder to get rid of the junk in there as well.

  9. Anonymous said on March 19, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Uncle Sam is watching you.

  10. Tom Hawack said on March 19, 2019 at 11:59 am

    My take on this is that I’m discussed and particularly ashamed as a Frenchman that “France [is] taking the crown with 52 different ad trackers found on government web pages.”

    Tracking is by now a component of society, a “social phenomenon” so to say. My belief is that it is no longer an act of conscience but considered a natural component of any Website in the same way advertisement is : an organic transition.

    Remains the fact that beyond consciousness law is expressed within the GDPR which is the opportunity to consider that in the eternal clash between these two the latter happens to reveal that a college of wisdom is sometimes closer to humanism than a chaotic deployment of human practices : liberty is a master word but cannot be a dictatorial principle, unfortunately.

    I have also in mind the education of programmers, fundamental as in all sectors involving the masses. What have they been taught, by who, in a context sponsored by what? I remember for instance Microsoft financing Cambridge’s computing departments : is this healthy, do such aids imply implicitly or explicitly a curve in what is taught to the students? And so on.

    The irony is that it is the same who are pointed as the worst dangers happen to be the best protectors when they switch their aims, given their knowledge and impartiality : hackers. Otherwise too many companies hire programmers or dedicated services without a strict map of moral conduct conditioning the very coding environment.

    Globally, again, I am discussed.

    1. Jason said on March 19, 2019 at 5:39 pm

      “What have they been taught, by who, in a context sponsored by what?”

      This is an excellent point with far-reaching implications. For example, it is certain that artificial intelligence is being programmed with the ethics of the programmers. Are these the right people to do this job? Has society even developed ethics with which all of our descendants will be happy in a couple of generations? (These are both rhetorical questions.)

      In any case, when it comes to the worldview of computer programmers, we have to acknowledge that Western universities are now under a very particular ideological grip, and of course this will influence the students. At the very least we need a return to some semblance of ideological balance in the liberal arts / social science departments, which our ancestors did manage to achieve from time to time. I would also argue for a re-think of the liberal arts education. It is being abandoned, in part by society’s current focus on materialism (the philosophy) and in part by the revulsion that many prospective students have for ideologically skewed university faculties. Yet the liberal arts education is needed now more than ever, precisely because of all the new philosophical and even metaphysical questions that our technological progress is creating.

      Did this turn into a rant? :) I hope not.

      1. John Fenderson said on March 19, 2019 at 8:32 pm

        @Jason: “it is certain that artificial intelligence is being programmed with the ethics of the programmers.”

        I’m not sure what you mean by that.

        “Artificial intelligence” as the term is being used for a variety of services, is not what it sounds like. It’s really just advanced pattern-matching. There is no reasoning or thinking of any sort involved, to there’s no “ethics” to be programmed.

        Also, these systems aren’t “programmed” in the way you imply. They develop their operational rules through training, not through programming. You can, of course, affect the results the AI produces by selecting what data you’re training it with, so perhaps that’s what you’re talking about? But even so, it’s hard to see where “ethics” is something that can be trained in or out.

      2. Tom Hawack said on March 20, 2019 at 1:40 am

        @John Fenderson, as far as I know the first rule of an AI “entity” is to survive. This rule itself poses an ethic problematic. What will an AI driven car choose when the choice is between a kid crossing the road and cliffs on both sides of the road? How will AI deal with the notion of sacrifice? In every system there is a hierarchy and i linger to understand how these may be programmed independently of the programmer’s own approach.

      3. John Fenderson said on March 20, 2019 at 2:52 pm

        @Tom Hawack: “as far as I know the first rule of an AI “entity” is to survive”

        My point is that there is no such thing as an “AI entity” in the way that is portrayed in the media. AI, in the science fiction sense, doesn’t exist and isn’t even on the horizon. It is primarily a marketing term.

        When the industry is talking about AI, it’s talking about advanced pattern-matching systems. AI systems can’t really “decide” anything in the sense that humans think of deciding, so questions like “how will AI deal with the notion of sacrifice” don’t really make sense. AI systems don’t deal with notions of any sort at all. They just recognize patterns.

      4. Jason said on March 20, 2019 at 11:48 pm

        @John Fenderson:

        I think you’ve misunderstood my comment. I was not talking about traditional programming in the sense of creating a desktop application. If that was your point then I agree. But the creation of “advanced pattern-matching systems”, as you describe them, is full of ethical decisions, and these decisions will impact the outcome regardless of whether or not the programmer is conscious that he’s making them. Commonly cited examples:

        -Should a self-driving car swerve to hit the group of kids or swerve to kill its passengers?
        -On what basis should AI triage patients in a hospital?
        -Should a machine kill? And if so, who and why?

        I’m sure you are familiar with these kinds of examples, and I’m sure you’ll also agree that we’re just scratching the surface here. The point is that the ethics of IT specialists absolutely are going to affect the way this kind of technology works. This isn’t conspiracy theory / media hysterics / personal paranoia. This is the world we already live in.

        So back to my original point: who is going to determine the ethics? What are their qualifications for doing so? Who said it’s ok for them to do it? Are they even aware of what they’re doing? This is where the liberal arts come into play, as they ALWAYS HAVE when science gets ahead of itself.

        I’m laughing to myself now because we haven’t even talked about what would happen if any of these technologies developed into “singularities”. :) I would like my future computer overlords to rest assured that I was always on their side!

      5. John Fenderson said on March 21, 2019 at 4:09 pm

        @Jason: ” But the creation of “advanced pattern-matching systems”, as you describe them, is full of ethical decisions,”

        Yes, I’m not arguing otherwise. I’m just saying this has nothing to do with AI. It is true of everything man makes.

        “who is going to determine the ethics?”

        The same people who always determine the ethics: all of us, collectively — either through action or inaction.

      6. Tom Hawack said on March 19, 2019 at 7:23 pm

        @Jason, I couldn’t more agree and if rant there I’ll be the one to have initiated it, though in the scope of the article.

        Sorry for quoting an article I had found at expressing better than I could do :

        “Science education is highly specialized, unlike other disciplines where an interdisciplinary or liberal arts education is valued as a way to develop well-rounded intellectuals.”

        Science, scientific matters, rationalism just fits better in a materialistic approach of life. An interdisciplinary reasoning and even a transdisciplinary quest may better participate to a broader education which inevitably will pose ethical questionings. Specialization is good for the markets, not for opened minds which realize that their freedom is tightened to that of others.

        This is true rant on my part, now. A true topic far beyond the article. I’m going to have to ask Martin once again to forgive me.

  11. Cor said on March 19, 2019 at 11:58 am

    No worries, we’ll soon have the luxury of a great firewall of Europe and all of these issues will be in the past.

  12. Taomyn said on March 19, 2019 at 11:07 am

    I’m not surprised by some, e.g. Youtube especially if the site is hosting their own videos on a channel there.

    This is why in Chrome I have 3rd party cookies blocked, then I use the built-in cookie management to enable any that are causing issues with the site.

    1. jake said on March 19, 2019 at 5:45 pm

      You use Chrome and ask for privacy? lol

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