Tracking & your Bandwidth: The Experiment

Privacy

This is the second in a series of posts that will break down Internet tracking, and let you know what it’s all about, why companies do it, and what you can do to prevent it.

When you visit a news portal or almost any content-focused website, your device becomes the focal point of a process which involves packets of data being whisked to and from different sites around the web. The goal of this process is to find out as much information about you as possible, and is commonly referred to as tracking.

With so much traffic happening behind the scenes while you are surfing, we wanted to find out what effect tracking has on the speed of your surfing and the amount of bandwidth you use. To accomplish this, researchers at F-Secure Labs conducted an experiment.

The Goal

To discover what kind of effect tracking has on web browsing. Specifically, to answer two questions, a) does tracking cause pages to load slower and b) does tracking increase the data size of webpages, resulting in more bandwidth being used.

The Method

To surf popular news & content websites normally, then surf them again with our security & privacy app Freedome turned to block third party tracking. For browsing we used Google Chrome with default settings, adding an extension called “Page Load Time” and the inbuilt “Bandwidth Usage” tool to measure statistics.

The Results

The results were surprising to say the least. With Freedome turned on (3rd party tracking blocked), we saw a remarkable decrease in both size of the webpages and the time it took to load them.

  • Pages loaded 1.6x faster by average when Freedome was used to block tracking.
  • Page load size decreased by an average of 14% when Freedome was used to block tracking.

 

The Conclusion

Browsing a heavily tracked website is like hiking up a mountain. Everything is heavier and takes longer, even if the reason isn’t obvious to you immediately. There was a lot of variation in the results (one website loaded 9.4x faster with Freedome!), which also shows that the amount of tracking done by websites varies greatly. The fact that pages are much smaller without tracking can also have financial implications for some users. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, excessive tracking will probably cause you to run out of bandwidth much sooner.

Note: Although Freedome was the only variable between the two tests, results may vary if depending when and where you are surfing from. We encourage everyone to run their own tests on their favorite websites, the tools are all free and only take a few minutes to set up. More information about the research can be found on our Labs blog.

[Image by Tea, two sugars | Flickr]

 

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