A machine learning approach for detecting third-party trackers on the web

Qianru Wu, Qixu Liu, Yuqing Zhang, Peng Liu, Guanxing Wen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

16 Scopus citations


Nowadays, privacy violation caused by third-party tracking has become a serious problem and yet the most effective method to defend against third-party tracking is based on blacklists. Such method highly depends on the quality of the blacklist database, whose records need to be updated frequently. However, most records are curated manually and very difficult to maintain. To efficiently generate blacklists, we propose a system with high accuracy, named DMTrackerDetector, to detect third-party trackers automatically. Existing methods to detect online tracking have two shortcomings. Firstly, they treat first-party tracking and third-party tracking the same. Secondly, they always focus on a certain way of tracking and can only detect limited trackers. Since anti-tracking technology based on blacklists highly depends on the coverage of the blacklist database, these methods cannot generate high-quality blacklists. To solve these problems, we firstly use the structural hole theory to preserve first-party trackers, and only detect third-party trackers based on supervised machine learning by exploiting the fact that trackers and non-trackers always call different JavaScript APIs for different purposes. The results show that 97.8% of the third-party trackers in our test set can be correctly detected. The blacklist generated by our system not only covers almost all records in the Ghostery list (one of the most popular anti-tracking tools), but also detects 35 unrevealed trackers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationComputer Security - 21st European Symposium on Research in Computer Security, ESORICS 2016, Proceedings
EditorsSokratis Katsikas, Catherine Meadows, Ioannis Askoxylakis, Sotiris Ioannidis
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9783319457437
StatePublished - 2016
Event21st European Symposium on Research in Computer Security, ESORICS 2016 - Heraklion, Greece
Duration: Sep 26 2016Sep 30 2016

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
Volume9878 LNCS
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


Other21st European Symposium on Research in Computer Security, ESORICS 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


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