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What Is Browser Fingerprinting? How It Works And How To Stop It

Browser fingerprinting is a powerful method that websites use to collect information about your browser type and version, as well as your operating system, active plugins, time zone, language, screen resolution, and various other active settings.

These data points might seem generic at first and don’t necessarily look tailored to identify one specific person. However, there’s a significantly small chance for another user to have 100% matching browser information. Panopticlick found that only one in 286,777 other browsers will share the same fingerprint as another user.

Websites use the information that browsers provide to identify unique users and track their online behavior. This process is therefore called “browser fingerprinting.”

How does browser fingerprinting work?

Browser fingerprinting works because websites use scripts that run in the background of your browser. Today’s web browsers have built-in software functions called APIs, which can be used by website scripts to collect information. Generally, scripts are designed for legitimate purposes like rendering videos or photos. If we were to block them, then most websites wouldn’t run properly they’d “break.”

That means there’s no way for someone to know when websites are collecting their personal information, because fingerprinting scripts look just like any other script running on a website. These scripts collect the attributes, device specifications, OS, browser settings and plug-ins, user agents, audio and video capabilities, timezone, and more that can be compiled into a “hash” or digital fingerprint.

Many website owners and ad networks share browser fingerprinting functionality to perform cross-site tracking. That means they use your online fingerprint to track you across the web and collect intimate details about you: your search history, shopping and news preferences, and more.

With the help of the following advanced techniques, fingerprinting online allows websites to identify individuals with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

  • Canvas fingerprinting.
  • WebGL fingerprinting and rendering fingerprinting.
  • Device fingerprinting.
  • Audio fingerprinting.

Once you’ve been tracked, a profile can be compiled that includes intimate details about your life. That profile can be sold to data brokers, who are already hard at work compiling as much information as possible about everyone. Data brokers combine offline information (from public records, offline loyalty cards, and other sources) with online information, and the precise details from your device fingerprint are just what they need to complete their files. Data brokers then market this information, often selling it to advertisers who use it to target you more effectively.

Why Do Websites Use Browser Fingerprinting?

Now, you might be wondering: why do websites browser-fingerprint you, and why is your data so incredibly valuable to these companies?

The international advertising industry and marketing machines love your data. They’ll do anything to get their hands on your data in order to track your online activities.

Tracking methods and data collection are extremely valuable because it allows advertising businesses to create a profile based on your data. The more data these businesses have, the more accurately they can target you with advertisements, which (indirectly) means higher revenue for the company.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad. Browser fingerprinting is also used to identify the characteristics of botnets because the connections of botnets are established by a different device every time.

Such analysis could lead to the identification of fraudsters and other suspicious activities that require investigation.

Also, banks use this method to identify potential fraud cases.

If an account is showing questionable online behavior, for example, a bank’s security system would be able to identify that the account is being accessed from multiple, different locations during a short period of time by analyzing unique fingerprinting.

By doing so, the bank can potentially identify a hacker who logged into the account using a device that had never accessed the account before.

All of these signs suggest potential fraud and usually trigger a further investigation or the preventative freezing of an account.

Browser Fingerprinting vs. Your IP address.

Covering up your IP address is an important method to use to hide your online identity.

The IP address protocol is designed to send a request to a receiving web server every time a user interacts with a website or service because the receiving server needs an IP address to send a response to.

That means that your IP address is a unique string of numbers that points directly to your device. Tech-savvy website owners are even able to track what other websites you visit, the account you’re logged into, and sometimes even your geo-location.

Test Your Browser’s Fingerprinting

There are various tools available that make it possible to test your browser identity. You can use “Am I Unique” or “Cover Your Tracks” to test the identity of your device.

Both of these tools will review your browser’s fingerprint and assess how unique your data actually is.

On Am I Unique’s website, simply click “View my browser fingerprint” to run the test.

You can also run a test with “Cover Your Tracks”. It’s a research project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

On the Cover Your Tracks website, click “Test Your Browser” to run the test to see how safe your browser is against tracking.

Panopticlick also runs various tests to assess your browser identity.

Panopticlick tests whether your browser:

  • Blocks tracking ads
  • Blocks invisible trackers.
  • Blocks “Whitelisted” trackers
  • Unblocks sites that promise to honor “Do Not Track”
  • Is, overall, protected against browser fingerprinting.

 

How to Defend Yourself Against Browser Fingerprinting

It’s probably not possible to protect yourself completely against fingerprinting. Perhaps new software or other ways to sufficiently combat browser fingerprinting will be developed in the near future.

However, there are quite a few tools and methods available to enhance your online privacy and minimize the possibility of identification.

Find the most effective methods to protect yourself below.

  • Use AdsPower
  • Disable JavaScript and Flash. (The disadvantage of disabling JavaScript is that websites won’t always function properly, because it also makes websites run smoothly on your device. This will impact your browsing experience.)
  • Install Anti-Malware Software
  • Use the Tor (The Onion Router) Browser
  • Use a VPN
  • Use Private Browsing Methods (Incognito)
  • Generalization refers to manipulating browser API results to make you seem generic. In other words, it masks your unique attributes and helps you blend in with the crowd.
  • Randomization changes your attributes periodically so that your fingerprint is constantly changing and you can’t be reliably identified.

 

The information in this article is from several resources.

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