What is fingerprinting? A guide to an invasive form of
LONDON, May 30, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Online tracking is becoming more sophisticated as companies search for new ways to collect valuable user data. The standard anti-tracking procedures–hiding IP addresses, disabling cookies, and changing to a more secure browser–are no longer enough.
That’s because tech firms, advertisers, and hackers are using browser fingerprinting, a more effective and invasive form of tracking.
What is fingerprinting?
Browser fingerprinting is the process of tracking users based on the configuration of their browsers. Seemingly innocuous user details such as operating system, fonts, screen resolution, and other settings are collected via scripts.
These scripts are present on every website and are essential for telling browsers how to act. They work in the background and quietly accumulate technical information about visiting devices and browsers. A website needs to know a device’s screen resolution, for example, so it can load a page in the right window size.
When these small details are combined into a single profile, it creates a snapshot of your device that’s as unique as a fingerprint. And once your device has been clearly identified, you can be tracked and targeted for advertising and other purposes.
Why is fingerprinting on the rise?
However, these measures mean that trackers are now resorting to more advanced methods. Up to a quarter of the world’s top 10,000 websites are now using browser fingerprinting scripts, with this number growing every year. New methods of fingerprinting are also coming to light, for example using people’s GPUs, and tracking across different browsers. There has been a shift in the way trackers are collecting our data, and fingerprinting is at the heart of it.
Fingerprinting might not be able to directly link your data with your personal identity. But the websites your device browses, the searches it makes, and the content it accesses are worth their weight in gold for advertisers and marketers.
Can I avoid being fingerprinted?
Taking steps to avoid fingerprinting can often make the problem worse. For example, if you disable cookies, that can actually become a fingerprint of its own. As individuals, there is currently little we can do to defend ourselves against fingerprinting without access to sophisticated tools. Sadly, even these have been found to be pretty ineffectual.
Luckily, some wider solutions to protect against fingerprinting are currently in development. The Firefox browser, for example, can now block third-party requests to companies that are known to participate in fingerprinting. Apple’s Safari browser has also introduced a fingerprinting defense mechanism by sharing only the minimum information needed with websites.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself from fingerprinting is by using these browsers on your PC. For mobile users, you can delete rarely-used apps, especially those that promise “free” services. These are likely to include trackers.
Fingerprinting is a complex phenomenon that’s slowly starting to be addressed by tech companies and governments alike. Continue using things like proxy services such as Smartproxy to hide your IP address, keep blocking third-party cookies, and use a privacy-focused browser such as Firefox.
Fingerprinting is still relatively unknown to most internet users. By learning about it now, you’ve already gotten a good head start.
About the author:
James Keenan, Senior Content Writer at Smartproxy.
James Keenan is the data automation and security enthusiast. James writes informative content on these topics for the Smartproxy team. He believes in data freedom and everyone’s right to become a self-starter.
Twitter: James Keenan (@JamesKeenan_og) / Twitter