Client-side energy and GHGs assessment of advertising and tracking in the news websites
Electronic devices consume energy both in the production and the use phase. Furthermore, the “hidden” impacts linked to their use are not frequently assessed and they depend on the behavior of the users, besides the servers and complex web networks. It must be underlined that many websites employ ads and trackers as part of their monetization strategy and, in order for online ads and trackers to work, they add an additional code to be executed on the users’ machines, which in turn requires more processing power. Considering that the Internet had an estimated 4.9 billion users in 2021, the global energy and carbon impacts of online ads and trackers might be significant. To investigate this phenomenon, we designed a novel automated framework for bottom-up estimation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to software using exclusively free and open source software. Our process involved the building of a random sample of global news websites which we visited with and without an ad-blocker, each time collecting power usage in identical conditions. The gathered data were put into an ordinary least squares (OLS)-based linear regression model, which showed that ads and trackers on news websites require on average an additional 6.13 W of power on personal computers. This result was then tuned to global environmental and technological parameters to estimate that in 2019, on the client side, ads and trackers on the news websites consumed 0.61 TWh of electrical energy, emitted 0.29 MtCO2eq of GHG, and cost all Internet users approximately 140 million USD (purchasing power parity) of electrical energy. This article met the requirements for a gold-gold JIE data openness badge described at http://jie.click/badges.
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