Browser fingerprinting: What is it and how does it work?

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Privacy is one of the controversial issues of the modern digital world. Technologies, the internet, and access to information are both the greatest benefits and the greatest threats to the free world in the 21st century. A vast majority of US citizens think that they cannot secure their personal data while browsing the internet and it’s hardly possible to do something as routine as google searching without being tracked. Data security is more elusive today than it ever has been. 

Everything starts with your choice of internet browser. Just like a human fingerprint, a browser has a set of uniques traits that can be easily traced back to the user and their activities online. IP addresses and HTTP cookies were the only digital fingerprints that affected your internet privacy ten years ago. But nowadays, the web browser has become a treasure trove of private information. 

What is browser fingerprinting? 

Your fingerprints are unique and are used to identify you in the real world. Just as with fingerprints, a browser’s configuration can identify individuals in the online world. While connected to the internet, your device hands over specific data to a server as well as the websites you visit. Thanks to a wide range of hardware and software configurations, these can serve as unique user IDs. Here’s what makes you unique on the web:

  • IP address
  • Browser type and its version
  • Screen resolutions
  • System language and timezone 
  • Active add-ons and plugins 
  • Geolocation 
  • Fonts installed on your device
  • Cookies, and more

Browser fingerprinting is a way for websites to collect and use all available information about your browser type and version, operating system, etc. This data may seem generic and unsuspecting for the purposes of identifying a single specific user but there’s actually a very small chance that any two users will have 100% matching information. In fact, only 1 out of 286,777 users on average share similar browser fingerprints. 

How is browser fingerprinting beneficial?

Websites collect different types of information to identify users and track their online activities. They use this data to personalize advertisements and custom-tailor experiences to better serve visitors. 

While the information that is collected doesn’t disclose your exact personal data like your name, home address, or banking information, it is still incredibly valuable for marketing and advertising campaigns as it allows websites to personalize offers and target specific groups. The more data a company can collect, the more accurately they can tailor their marketing campaigns and, as a result, achieve a higher ROI and higher revenue from their customers. 

Dynamic pricing is another example of how browser fingerprinting is used. An e-commerce and travel platform can adjust prices based on various factors, including how many times you’ve visited a page, your location, and even the device you’re using to browse their site. 

However, browser fingerprinting isn’t as bad as it may sound. It’s also used to identify the characteristics of botnets, leading to fraudsters and other suspicious activities. Banking institutions also leverage browser fingerprinting to identify potential frauds. For example, a bank’s security system can identify and block fraudsters when an account is being accessed from various locations within a short period of time. 

Why is it better to mask your browser’s fingerprint?

Information is the 21st century’s gold. The more information companies can collect about their customers, the more value they can generate. Browser fingerprints have the potential to manipulate the way users think and behave.

It’s easy to feel paranoid that your activities are constantly being watched and tracked. In fact, there are companies known as “data brokers” that collect and maintain data on millions of users, which they collect, analyze, pack, and sell to other companies without the user’s consent or knowledge. To be safe, this type of data is anonymized and doesn’t include any personal information. 

Online privacy can limit the power that governmental institutions or advertisers have over individuals. The objective is to avoid a situation where someone gets specific information about you and can use it to control you or influence your thoughts and behaviors. 

The internet stores all this information forever and never forgets. Once you’ve visited a page, shared a post, or bought something online, your digital footprints are stored and used for analytics and advertising. 

This can be a genuine concern when it comes to the vast amounts of data collected without user consent. In 2020, France’s data protection regulator (CNIL) issued large fines to Google and Amazon for violating France’s rules on online advertising trackers. Google was forced to pay a $100-billion fine for tracking users who earlier had deactivated ad personalization. 

But no one can be fined for browser fingerprinting since it’s practically invisible to users. There are no settings, permissions, or specific data regulations. 

One of the most important things to remember about your online privacy is that the information is 100% yours. It includes your habits, patterns, and actions. And there are still some ways to mask your browser fingerprints. 

Protect your privacy online 

Web trackers use many technical and sneaky ways to collect your browsing fingerprints. Unlike cookies, it’s hard to leave no browser fingerprints behind. Cookies are stored in your browser and you know how to delete, block, or turn them off. But browser fingerprinting is completely invisible to users. You don’t know about it and you can’t delete it like you can with cookies. 

In fact, the more tools you use to hide your online presence, the more unique your browser fingerprint becomes, and an incognito mode doesn’t stop your browser from sharing your information. Most apps have privacy settings for users that allow you to choose how much and what information is shared. Turning off location services and denying access to files and cameras are also good practices to shield your online privacy. But it’s not enough to be fully anonymous on the web. 

With Kameleo, you can stop your browser from leaking your digital fingerprint. Thanks to its protective layer between the web and your browser, your browser fingerprints are greatly diminished. Though achieving 100% anonymity isn’t entirely possible, Kameleo can help you significantly reduce the chances of having a unique fingerprint by using multi-accounting. The beauty of multi-accounting is that you can create numerous native browser profiles, save as as files, and use them when needed to keep your real identity safe and still get the best out of the browsing functionality. To find out more about multi-accounting with Kameleo, check out our step-by-step guide.

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