Browsing fingerprinting is a practice that is widely used on the Internet to track user devices. Initially, browser fingerprinting was developed as a technique to monitor and block devices associated with suspicious online activities, and to provide protection against acts of fraud.
In the present day, the browser fingerprinting method has also been appropriated for other uses. For instance, the technique is routinely utilized to help marketers and advertisers gather data on user preferences and behavior in order to deliver tailored content. For this reason, browser fingerprinting is often the subject of debate, but the fact remains that it does have an important role to play in the modern digital landscape.
How does browser fingerprinting work?
Browser fingerprinting works using scripts that run in the background whenever you use your browser to visit websites.
Websites use browser APIs to run scripts on your browser when you visit their domains, and these scripts collect data about your device and browser. This can include your IP (Internet Protocol) address, device model, hardware specifications, operating system, browser version, screen resolution, time zone, language settings, and much more.
By compiling data about the characteristics and configurations of your device and web browser, websites can create a unique fingerprint that enables them to identify you across sessions.
What is the difference between cookies and browser fingerprinting?
Browser fingerprinting and cookies are similar in that they are both methods use to track users’ online behavior. However, there exist some key differences between them.
The term ‘cookies’ refers to text files that contain small amounts of data. This can include a variety of different types of information, such as usernames, passwords, site preferences, and browsing history.
Cookies are created when you visit a website and updated when you adjust your preferences or authorize your browser to retain pieces of information across sessions. They exist to improve your personal experience, and they are stored on your device.
As a user, you have a fair amount of control over cookies, as you can delete them from your device and adjust your data settings to turn them off. Browser fingerprinting, on the other hand, does not offer this same control.
Since browser fingerprinting gathers data about the fundamental properties and configurations of your device to identify you, it is much more persistent. As such, it is more difficult to avoid tracking when browser fingerprinting is employed, and this has raised concerns about the ethics of its utilization.
What are the main types of fingerprinting?
The three most prominent types of fingerprinting are canvas fingerprinting, WebGL fingerprinting, and audio fingerprinting.
- Canvas fingerprinting
Canvas fingerprinting utilizes the <canvas> element of HTML to gather data. When you visit a site that uses this method, it prompts your browser to render a hidden image in the background. Once the browser does this, the site then analyses the pixels of that image and collects data on it. Since there will be light differences in how each image is rendered, the site can use this data to differentiate between users.
- WebGL fingerprinting
- Audio fingerprinting
Audio fingerprinting works in a similar way to Canvas and WebGL fingerprinting methods, however, it relies on audio playback. Websites that use this will embed hidden audio files in their pages, prompting your device to process them when you visit those pages. Again, each device will do this slightly differently, producing a unique series of sounds that are extremely difficult to replicate. As such, the sound data can then be used to identify your device.
How do I bypass browser fingerprinting?
To help prevent browser fingerprinting, you can do the following:
- Browse in incognito/private browsing mode
- Use a VPN or proxy server to change your location
- Utilize a ‘standard’ browser that uses uniform settings
As such, the most effective solution to browser fingerprinting is to manipulate it, rather than trying to avoid it altogether.
How can I manipulate browser fingerprinting?
These tools support GeoSurf integration and will enable you to create multiple profiles and spoof your device parameters to skew the fingerprinting process.
As such, they can enable you to enjoy a more private and enjoyable online experience, secure in the knowledge that you are not being tracked.