What Is Browser Fingerprinting?
Whether you have already heard about browser fingerprinting or not, it’s a topic worth investigating in more detail. We all know our internet and browser activity isn’t as private as we’d like it to be, but how far does our privacy go, and who has access to our activity?
Namely, this is all connected to browser or device fingerprinting. It matches certain device and browser activity to individual IP addresses, making it easier to track online movement and activity.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly online fingerprinting means, how it works, and how to protect yourself from it. So, if you’re curious, keep reading.
Defining browser fingerprinting
Let’s start by explaining what browser fingerprinting is. As you’ll see, many people use the browser, online, machine, and device fingerprinting interchangeably, but all these terms refer to the same thing.
Essentially, it’s an investigative technique used to collect data and match certain data to a specific IP address. Websites or any third-party companies can collect information about the visitors’ online presence. Even if you’re not signed in and are just passing through a random website, it’ll most likely detect your IP address.
Because it’s connected to the IP address, it doesn’t matter if you’re using a laptop, PC, tablet, or smartphone – these devices are all connected to the same IP address, which means they are sending out specific data to the receiving servers over the same address.
As it’s next to impossible for someone else to have the completely same activity, it creates a unique fingerprint.
How it all works
Websites collect large amounts of visitors’ data, store it, and match it later to specific browsers – but how can they achieve this? There are several popular techniques, but some of the most used ones are cookies and canvas fingerprinting.
The most common way for any website to obtain specific information is by introducing cookies. Although their primary function is to improve the user experience while browsing the website, they are stored on your device. In reality, cookies are small bundles of text files that contain specific information about each device.
Upon visiting a website and loading the cookies, the websites identify the visitors and track their online behavior. That way, not only do the websites see if you’re visiting it the first time or not, but they also collect information such as your configuration settings, operating system, browsing activity, interests, and much more.
The more contemporary approach to gathering fingerprints is by using canvas fingerprinting. The websites written in HTML5 code can add a fingerprinting code inside it and collect the website visitors’ fingerprints. However, unlike cookies, canvas fingerprinting isn’t stored in your computer, so you can’t manually delete it.
If you want to learn more, check this blog post about browser fingerprinting.
Why you need to protect against it
With online fingerprinting available and used mainly by countless websites, hiding your online identity and maintaining a desired level of privacy is more challenging each day. Today, websites can easily track your browser activity, learn about your hobbies and interests, and even pinpoint your geo-location, all without your knowledge.
Improving your privacy and security is crucial if you don’t feel comfortable with someone else having full access to your activity.
Challenges of protecting against browser fingerprinting
Fighting against fingerprinting and maintaining your online privacy is possible, but it requires a bit of time and effort to work.
For example, many people think that VPNs will give them the ultimate privacy, but that’s not the case. Although these programs mask your IP address, there are quite a few activities that can give you away.
How to protect yourself
Luckily, there are several ways to avoid this from happening. The ultimate goal is to lower your browsers’ uniqueness, and you can do that by implementing several strategies:
- Use popular browsers – Using the most common browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, or Safari will drastically lower your chances of increasing uniqueness, so always opt for these browsers.
- Use different browsers – Install two browsers – one for your private activities and one for your public ones. Make sure to never log in to any personal accounts on the public browser to make it as universal as possible.
- Reduce plugins – The number and type of plugins you use on your browser greatly improves your uniqueness, so try to uninstall as many as you can, especially the less popular ones.
To sum it all up, staying away from browser fingerprinting and maintaining a high level of online privacy is quite challenging nowadays.
More and more websites use fingerprinting to gather information about their visitors and benefit from it. However, there are several tips to effectively lower your browser uniqueness, helping you keep your activity private.