We used to read the newspaper, now the news reads us.

Whether tabloid, long-form or focussed on wildlife: most online news is financed through advertising. To satisfy the advertiser's interest in the site's audience, optimise their offerings and enable easy sharing of content via social networks, virtually all news sites include a large number of external tracking beacons. This means that while you're browsing the morning news, your behaviour is shared with advertisers and analytics companies from around the globe.

In the end, the news site may get more information out of you than you get out of their articles.

What happens when you read an article online

Choose your favourite news site...

... and see who follows you.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are often criticised in the media for their data-based business models. Ironically, they share user behaviour with far fewer shady ad networks than the average news site. Visiting Facebook will only request data from Facebook's own servers, while a visit to Die Welt or F.A.Z. will notify 59 and 55 different sites, respectively.

The Listening Posts

Below you can see the connections between news sites, the domains from which they load resources (such as tracking codes and advertising) and the companies behind these domains. These companies are from many legal environments, including the United States, European countries or Germany. Hovering over Die Welt, for example, will highlight all 59 listening posts that are present on their home page and articles.

This means that news sites put their readers to a difficult choice: accept the pervasive surveillance by advertisers and metrics services, or block those elements and reduce the advertising revenue for the news sites whose services they enjoy consuming.

A better compromise would be for readers to share their data with news sites, who then control the sharing of that data with third party web-sites - instead of inviting them onto their web sites to collect whatever information they want, with whatever mechanism they want.

As they say in German: dahinter steckt immer ein kluger Knopf.


Made at the GEN Editor's Lab Berlin 2014 by @stefanwehrmeyer, @annabelchurch and @pudo

Header image CC-By 2.0 by NS Newsflash