Thousands of the most popular sites collect information about users before they submit

Researchers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland analyzed the 100,000 most popular sites. They are

found that 1,844 sites collect data onusers even without their consent and before they have submitted information to the site. Many of these do not collect data directly, but use third-party marketing and analytics services that are able to form a user profile.

After in May 2021, the researcherschecked sites for leaked passwords, they also found 52 sites where third parties collected password data before sending it. The group communicated its findings to these sites and all collections have been eliminated.

“If you see a button in the form on the site“submit,” it’s reasonable to expect it to do nothing until you click it,” said Gunesh Akar, a professor and research fellow at Radboud University’s Digital Security Group and co-lead of the study. “We were extremely surprised by our results. We thought we'd find a few hundred sites that collect email before you send it, but the results have exceeded our expectations."

The researchers added that the information was collected fromusing a tool whose behavior resembles a keylogger - these are malicious programs that record everything that the user types on the keyboard. Some sites logged each keystroke, but many captured the full field data as the user navigated to the next one.

"In some cases, when you click onthe next field, they collect information from the previous one, and when you click on the password field, they save the email,” said Asuman Senol, a privacy researcher at KU Leuven and one of the co-authors of the study. “We didn’t expect to find thousands of sites that break the rules so much.”

Since the results of the study show thatdeleting form data before submitting may not be enough to protect yourself from data collection, the researchers created a Firefox extension called LeakInspector. The researchers hope that their data will raise awareness of the problem not only for ordinary users, but for developers and site administrators.

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