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How browser fingerprinting keeps us from being sneaky online

June 12, 2018    |    Cyber Security    |    Lauren Elkins

Your browser fingerprint has busted you.

When you visit a website, the following information may be shared:

 

1. Your device screen size and color depth
2. Your language
3. Whether you block ads
4. The browser you’re using
5. Your timezone
6. If you have cookies enabled
7. Your operating system
8. Whether you’re using Tor
9. Fonts installed
10. Add-ons installed
And more...

All of these details make up your browser fingerprint.

In the name of browsing privacy, you might respond by deleting your cookies. Unfortunately, this is about as effective today as trying to use Facebook without sharing your data with them.

“Okay, fine,” you say. “I’ll use my incognito or private browser. I’ll install pop-up blockers. I’ll protect my IP using my reliable Private Tunnel VPN.”

After you’ve done all of that, take a moment now, and stop over on Panotpiclick, which is a research project through the Electronic Frontier Foundation “designed to better uncover the tools and techniques of online trackers and test the efficacy of privacy add-ons.” On their site, you can test your browser fingerprint and the results will tell you how unique (and “trackable”) you still are.

According to Panopticlick, “when you load a web page, you will automatically broadcast certain information about your browser to the website you are visiting—as well as to any trackers embedded within the site.”

This may happen through JavaScript, Flash or other methods. Browser fingerprinting is used constantly on many, if not most, of the sites you visit. Unfortunately, it’s not a technique that’s often discussed or disclosed, so many are unaware of the extent of information shared and how unique it really makes them as a user. According to Lance Cottrell from Ntrepid, “typically only one in several million people have exactly the same specifications as you.”

Coco Chanel said, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

You and your browser are irreplaceable.

There are some great user experience benefits provided by browser fingerprinting, so let’s not consider it all bad. If you visit a site on your phone that’s mobile optimized, then it displays the information in a layout and fonts that read easily on the size of your screen. When you set up two monitors with one horizontal and the other vertical, your browser will adjust how pages display to match your setup.

Browser fingerprinting provides both performance and consistency benefits. But it’s a trade off, like pretty much every other technological feature we enjoy.

We depend on technology today. We live in a hyper-connected world. However, nobody else is going to worry about your personal privacy. You have to be your own advocate. Understanding different ways your information is shared (such as browser fingerprinting) is one important way to do that. Other ways are to take specific actions. Use a VPN for browsing, especially any time you connect to a public WiFi, no matter the device. Understand that anything you share on social media (regardless of your privacy settings) is really public information. Set up unique passwords and two-factor authentication whenever you can. Turn on private browsing. Consider identity theft protection or at least review your credit data regularly.

Visit our website to read about more ways we protect you against tracking, malware and other cyber threats when you use our VPN, built on the award-winning open source VPN protocol of OpenVPN.

Better Safe Than Sorry