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Privacy concerns and the prevalence of third-party tracking cookies on ARL library homepages

Bill Marino (Bruce T Halle Library, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 8 June 2021

Issue publication date: 19 July 2021




The integration of third-party resources on library websites may be inadvertently contributing to surveillance technologies without user knowledge. This study set out to determine the prevalence of third-party tracking cookies on Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member homepages, the entities that are tracking users and for what purpose and what control users have over their cookie preferences.


Homepages from the 124 ARL member libraries were visited. Evidence of a privacy or cookie statement was collected and cookie logs were captured. This data were compared against the Disconnect list of known trackers and analyzed to determine the extent to which third-party tracking cookies were used across ARL sites, who was setting the cookies and for what purpose, and whether this use differed with regards to a library's identifying features.


It was determined that many ARL libraries do contribute to the ability to track a user's activity across the web, with one-third containing third-party tracking cookies. A user's contact with tracking cookies is influenced by various traits defining the institution. Users are given very little control over the cookies logged on their machines.


This study explores library efforts to protect user privacy, adopting an introspective approach that focuses on library websites. It will provide discussion points for librarians to question not only what third-party tracking cookies are present on their sites and why, but also how to educate their users about privacy issues.



Marino, B. (2021), "Privacy concerns and the prevalence of third-party tracking cookies on ARL library homepages", Reference Services Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 115-131.



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