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Share of ad trackers in web traffic across the world: A 2023 report

The Internet is an inexhaustible source of knowledge, but also of digital junk. Enter ubiquitous banners, pop-ups, social media widgets, and those unskippable video ads that interrupt what you’re watching, or just get on your nerves.

Ads are everywhere, and they are not going away. If anything, the online ad industry is only getting bigger and stronger. In 2022, global digital ad spend grew by 15,6% to reach the $600 billion mark for the first time. By 2026, it is expected to soar to $876.1 billion. That’s a lot of money to be spent on ads for 5.16 billion internet users.

For their part, advertisers want to ensure ads reach the right people and measure campaign effectiveness. They do this using a variety of ad tracking techniques such as cookies, tracking pixels (tiny transparent images placed over ads), URL trackers, and browser fingerprinting. Tracking can be so thorough that online ads can even show up in your mailbox. In essence, every ad request from your browser is also a tracking request.

This report aims to shed light on how the share of ad trackers varies across the world. We’ve found that some regions have a higher share of ‘bad’ domains that try to show you ads and track you, while others have less. In our research we relied on the data collected with the help of AdGuard DNS, a service that blocks these domains and keeps your browsing private.

Ad trackers: how many does your browser load?

You might already know that ad trackers lurk in the shadows of almost every website, but have you ever wondered how much traffic they consume? We wanted to find out, so we used a server that can block them and counted how many requests it handled and stopped in one day. Here’s what we’ve learnt: the server processed about 80 billion requests from 241 places around the world, and blocked 7.24% of them.

AdGuard DNS is a service with over 50 million users and 50+ servers that can block ad tracking domains on any device.

Does this mean that just over 7% of all web traffic is ad tracking? Actually, it’s much worse than that. When an ad domain is loaded by your browser or app, it can set in motion a chain of browser requests to other ad servers. This means that by allowing one domain to load we may allow many more domains, which we call ‘hidden ads,’ to load.

To get a rough idea how many ad trackers there really are, we checked out some popular UK and US news sites with and without the ad blocking server. We found that we got 3.15 times more requests when we didn’t use the ad blocker. These extra requests were the requests from ‘hidden’ ad domains.

This means that in reality ad tracking requests comprise about 19.6% of traffic, and most of these requests are ‘hidden,’ i.e. dependent on other ad domains loading. So the bottom line is: not 7% but almost 20% of traffic is actually ad trackers.
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty — the numbers by region and a country.

So different yet so alike

It might not be obvious but the amount of ad trackers you see online depends not only on which privacy-preserving tools you use, but also on where you live. Some countries have significantly more ad trackers than others in relative terms, but the difference is not too big when you compare regions. For example, in any of the five large regions we looked at (Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, Oceania), ad trackers accounted for between 5.8% and 8% of daily traffic (≈20% if we include ‘hidden ads’ which are not reflected further in our report).

Asia has the highest share of ad trackers out of all regions (7.93%), followed by Europe (7.11%). The Americas’ and Africa’s share of ad trackers is almost identical (6.71% and 6.70%). And if you live in the US, you might be jealous of your neighbors in Mexico and Canada who have a smaller share of ad trackers in their traffic than you (6.44% and 6.58% vs. 7.23% respecively).

If we look at Latin America (including Mexico), the average share of ad trackers for the whole region is 6.62%, with Puerto Rico being the only country to go above 8%. Colombia, Dominica and Cuba are also high on the list, each with a share of ad trackers of more than 7%.

As for Europe, there’s a slight difference in the share of ad trackers depending on where you live or stay. The north has fewer ad trackers (6.29%) than the south (7.31%).

Spain is one the worst countries in Europe in terms of ad tracking (7.80%), while Norway (5.74%) and Sweden (5.36%) are the best ones — though, only in comparison to their more unfortunate European counterparts.

The land of contrasts

Asia is the region with the highest share of ad trackers (7.93%), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Living up to its image as a land of contrasts, Asia is full of statistical outliers. India has the highest share of ad trackers not only on the continent, but in the world (9.48%), if we are not counting microstates. Iran is not too far behind (9.11%). However, Asia is also home to the country with by far the lowest share of ad trackers according to our data — China (2.06%).

Zeroing in on one specific region, the Middle East, we’ll see a huge gap in the share of ad trackers targeting Iranians and people from other countries.

Curious facts

While we were able to draw conclusions about the share of ad trackers in users’ traffic for many countries, in some cases we could not do so in good conscience because the number of requests processed was too small. Nevertheless, we would like to share with you some curious facts.

One of them is the ad tracking statistics from the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. Nestled in the heart of Rome, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church government has a population of 806 and an impressive share of ad trackers in traffic, 12.69%. Taken at face value, this would suggest that Catholic clergy are drowning in digital garbage, but we would not jump to conclusions due to the extremely small sample size.

Nor would we give much thought to the data from North Korea. The self-isolated country, which has arguably the most restrictive internet policy in the world, ranks last in terms of the number of requests processed — a modest 578, 11.07% of which were blocked.

Conclusion

We can safely assume that most of the requests that the resolver didn’t return were to ad tracking servers, or even worse — to dangerous ones. Our data shows that, on average, 7.24% of browser requests come from ad tracking domains. However, in reality ads take up a lot more of your daily traffic. This is because when a DNS server blocks one ad request, it often stops many more ‘bad’ requests from following the initial one.

On average, one in five requests a browser sends are to load an ad tracking domain. Think about it — almost 20% of internet traffic is junk, mostly ad trackers!

Just like junk food, junk traffic is bad for you. But unlike a burger or pizza, it’s not something you’ll crave, even occasionally. That’s why it’s better to cut it out of the digital diet for good. DNS filtering is a powerful tool that can help users do this. You can change your DNS server to one that blocks ad trackers, or even better, use an ad blocker that will offer more comprehensive protection from them.

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