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The state of ad trackers around the world in December 2023: AdGuard report

All interactive maps used in this report are available here


It has been almost a year since we published our first report on the state of ads and trackers, or as we like to call them cumulatively — ad trackers, — around the world. And as we prepare to turn the last page of the calendar and ring in the new year, it’s time to take a look back and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same in the grand scheme of tracking things.

Our new report reveals how many requests that your browser or app makes to external web servers go to the domains whose primary purpose is to track you around the web and serve you ads. Back in February, we found that, on average, about 7.24% of all requests made by users’ devices were related to ads and tracking. Our updated data suggests that the share of ad tracking requests in user traffic has since increased, albeit slightly, to 7.40%.

On a side note:

You may think that ad tracking is not a big issue, as it only accounts for a little over 7% of all web traffic. But this is far from the truth. When an ad domain is loaded by your browser or app, it can start a chain of requests to other ad servers. This means that many more ad domains are loaded behind the scenes, without showing up in our data. We call these domains ‘hidden ads.’

In our previous report, we tried to estimate how many of these domains there are by browsing several popular news sites with and without an ad blocker. We found that without the ad blocker, we got 3 times more ad tracking requests. These extra requests came from ‘hidden’ ad domains. This means that ad tracking requests actually make up about 20% of traffic, and most of them are ‘hidden,’ meaning they depend on other ad domains loading.

But it’s not the majority of the countries — and we’ve studied more than 200 of them for this report — that are responsible for this change. In fact, in more than 130 countries the share of ad tracking requests in the user traffic has dropped. On the other hand, more than 60 countries have seen an increase in the share of ad trackers — and it is this less fortunate minority that is to blame for the rise in the share of ad trackers on a global scale.

Europe

Now, as we did last time, we are going to take a closer look at individual regions, starting with Europe. As you can see from the bar chart below, which compares data from February 2023 to December 2023, European users encountered fewer ad trackers, on average, when they went online later this year. In Spain, the share of ad trackers in user traffic dropped from 7.80% to 7.20%, in Germany — from 7.56% to 6.83% and in Italy — from 7.21% to 6.71%. This pattern appears to be fairly consistent throughout the entire European continent, with notable exceptions of Russia (+1.21%) and Denmark (+0.61%).

If you want to learn more about the share of ad trackers in the traffic of a specific European country, hover over that country on the interactive map.

Latin America

Latin America follows the same trend as Europe. The vast majority of the countries in the region have seen the share of ad trackers going down. Thus, Colombians were exposed to about 0.52% less ad trackers on average, while Argentinians to 0.81% less. Puerto Rico had the largest decrease, with a 1.52% difference in the share of ad trackers in their traffic over the last 10 months. Venezuelans and Bolivians also experienced significant changes, as the share of ad trackers in their traffic plunged by 1.19% and 1.34% respectively. Brazil maintained the status quo, as its share of ad trackers continued to hover around the 6.6%-6.7% mark, just as it was in February 2023.

Cuba has emerged as the only outlier, as the share of ads and trackers in the country jumped from 7.20% to 9.62% — an increase of 2.42%. This dubious achievement earned the island nation a bright red color on our interactive map (hover over the map to learn more stats about each individual Latin American country).

Asia

In our previous report, we dubbed Asia “a land of contrasts.” And it continues to live up to that image. Going against the grain, a host of Asian countries have seen an increase in the percentage of ad trackers in the user traffic. The largest, albeit unwelcome, surge in ad tracking requests, came from Uzbekistan, where users encountered 2.64% more ad trackers on average — an increase from 8.80% to an alarming 11.44%. That unfortunate circumstance propelled the Central Asian country all the way to the top of our table.

Iran added 2.01% — going from an already high 9.11% to a sky-high of 11.12%. India, the world’s most populous country, also saw more ad trackers over the past 10 months, crossing the 11% threshold at 11.20% (an increase of 1.72%). South Koreans have also faced more ad trackers later this year, with 9.38% compared to 7.88% in February.

On the other hand, Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, saw the share of ad trackers in the user traffic decline by more than 1% during the same period, Malaysia saw its share decline by a healthy 1.55% — from 6.38% to 4.83%. Mainland China continued this downward trend, moving ever closer to zero (1.84%).

North America: USA, Canada and others

In the February report, the share of ad trackers in the US traffic was just about the global average, which was 7.2% at the time. This time around, the US has fallen below the global average. As we have already mentioned above, the global average rose to 7.4% this year, while the share of ad trackers in the US traffic fell from 7.2% to 6.4%. In the same vein, Canada’s numbers went from 6.58% to 6.20% and Mexico’s from 6.44% to 6.02%. Good riddance, one could say.

Opposing trends

Our data suggests that the gap between the countries with a high proportion of ad trackers in the user traffic and those with a relatively low proportion, is widening. When selecting countries for our least trackable and most trackable country lists, we’ve seen a lot of familiar names.

Uzbekistan overtook India as the country with the most ads, pushing the latter to the second place, while Iran slipped to the third. At the same time, all the three countries saw an increase in the share of ad trackers in the user traffic. As for the outsiders, or rather the lucky few countries with the least heavy load of ad trackers in the user traffic, China yet again stole the spotlight, while Somalia moved closer to China, as did Cambodia.

What DNS numbers tell us about attitudes to security?

To collect the data, we used AdGuard DNS, our DNS service with more than 100 million users and 216 billion queries per day. When we broke down users’ requests by the protocols they used to send DNS queries, we saw that, overall, users were moving from less secure protocols to more secure ones.

The use of plain DNS, which sends DNS queries and responses in an unencrypted form, dropped from 13% share in the early 2023 to 6.6% in December, according to our data. On the other hand, DNS-over-TLS, which encrypts DNS traffic using TLS and is by far the most popular protocol among AdGuard DNS users, saw significant growth from 82% in to 90% in December. This is a positive development, and we hope the trend continues.

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