Tracking the Trackers on University Websites: A snapshot on the Italian case

Team Members

Elena Osti and Giuseppe Reale.



We want to verify if the presence of tracker tools is a relevant phenomenon that affect also governmental websites. To make a preliminary test we decided to focus the analysis on a well-defined and restricted sector (Universities) in a specific country (Italy). It is a very small test and its results can’t be generalized but, the case seems interesting because in our list we have the possibility to observe both public and private institutions operating in the same field.

Initial Data Sets

We found the URL list of all the Italian Universities, not only the public ones but also private and telematics universities. According to the data-set available on the MIUR (Italian Ministry for Education, University and Scientific Research) website, we collected a list of 95 Italian university websites.

Research Questions

  1. Our aim is to verify the presence of tracker tools in university websites starting from a national case, the Italian one, putting in evidence the different types of trackers used and their entity.
  2. The presence, in our list, of universities that have a different nature (public vs private) could give us the opportunity to verify if there are any differences between these two subgroups.

We expect to find a different presence of trackers (both for amount and typology) between public and private universities.


  1. Scraping of the list of websites that represent the universe of the Italian Universities.
  2. Use of the “Tracker Tracker” tool to collect data on tracker presence in our list of websites.
  3. Network analysis and data visualization using Gephi.
  4. Bubble chart with RAW


After the analysis it is possible to divide the initial group into two parts considering the simple presence/absence of trackers. The figure 1 shows that there is a big group of Italian University websites (74 on the total of the 96 considered) characterized by the total absence of trackers, showing clearly that tracking tools are not so present among the Italian University Websites. The label Inside the other bubble indicates the more representative tool for each cluster: the “twitter button” among the widget; the “DoubleClick” tracker for the ADV cluster and finally “google analytics” for the analytics cluster.


Fig. 1 – Presence/absence of trackers in Italian University websites

At a first look to the distribution of the analyzed websites it is also clear that our initial hypothesis about a relevant difference between private and public University institutions is not confirmed.


Fig. 2 – Group of the Italian University websites tracked and the network of the trackers used

This second graph represents our second group, Italian Universities websites that show, as result of our analysis, a presence of trackers. In this second group we can find both public and private University websites.


Fig. 3 - Bubble chart of the typology of trackers used in Italian University websites
In figure 3 it is possible to visualize the typology of trackers used in our list of websites. The size of the bubble stand for the number of universities using a particular tracking tool while the colors is used to distinguish: ADV trackers (in red); widget (in blue) and analytics tools (in green).


  • Our analysis clearly told us that the trackers are not so used in the group of the Italian Universities.
  • The different institutional aspect public/private doesn’t seem so relevant..
  • What emerge from our observation of the second group is that the presence of trackers seems more connected with other aspects like: market and social orientation of some universities; the choice of implement a website as a space devoted to promotion and engagement (space to social media button) and not only as an instrument of information.
  • The Analytics tools seem to be the more used in this sample but others trackers like the adv ones are strangely present.


The tracking presence in governmental sites seems interesting for support the study and comprehension of institution strategies and attitude towards market and promotion, an aspect that is more and more crucial also in university sector. We think that could be interesting a future analysis of this type on the top universities present in international rankings, also applying a comparative study between the list of different rankings.


Van Der Velden, Lonneke, (2014), “The Third Party Diary: Tracking the Trackers on Dutch Governmental Websites” NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies 3 (1): 195–217.
I Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
image00.pngpng image00.png manage 45 K 26 Feb 2016 - 15:06 AnneHelmond Fig. 1 – Presence/absence of trackers in Italian University websites
image01.pngpng image01.png manage 73 K 26 Feb 2016 - 15:11 AnneHelmond Fig. 3 - Bubble chart of the typology of trackers used in Italian University websites
image02.pngpng image02.png manage 42 K 26 Feb 2016 - 15:12 AnneHelmond Fig. 2 – Group of the Italian University websites tracked and the network of the trackers used.
Topic revision: r2 - 26 Feb 2016, AnneHelmond
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