What is browser fingerprinting, and how does it track users’ activities

Published Date : Mar 16, 2022
Category : How To
What is browser fingerprinting, and how does it track users’ activities

Each action users perform online leaves a mark. It might be that advertisers figure out your current interests. Sometimes, it helps determine your preferences and present relevant content overall. While seemingly useful, many treat such tracking as invasive and unnecessary. For instance, cookies get a lot of attention from digital communities.

Additionally, all websites using cookies must present cookie notifications, requiring consent from users. Despite issues with cookie alerts, like using dark patterns to coerce users into making decisions favorable to the website, it pushes for transparency.

But cookies are not the only issue haunting digital users. Browser fingerprinting is also a practice users need to be aware of nowadays. Let’s dig deeper into its meaning and purpose.

What is Browser Fingerprinting?

Browser fingerprinting is a method used by websites to identify devices and find out information related to them. It uses special scripts to collect certain information about you for later reference. They work in the background, meaning you are unlikely to know about their existence.

So, these codes, usually called scripts, run on the web pages and help collect websites’ piles of data about your online activity. As per stats of 2020, a quarter of Alexa top 10K websites incorporated browser fingerprinting into their practices.

The data collected through browser fingerprinting can be anything or everything from the following:

  • Browser information like name and version.
  • Device information.
  • The language used by you.
  • Keyboard layout.
  • Time zone.
  • Software installed on the device.

So, browser fingerprinting generates enough information to identify individual users from a crowd of other people. Surprisingly, the customizations your browser has, the easier it becomes to identify you. For instance, multiple add-ons and extensions make your browsing easier to identify.

Also Read: Best Lightweight Browser for Windows

Cookies vs. browser fingerprinting

Let’s break this down quickly.

Browser fingerprinting and cookies are both used to track you around the web. However, cookies are regulated. The term held here means that when a person visits a website, they receive a pop-up that allows cookies or declines them. Users get a choice not to opt for the cookies.

It is not the case with browser fingerprinting. Browser fingerprinting is an automatic process that continues silently in the background. Users will likely need to use browsers that stop browser fingerprinting in their tracks. For instance, Brave offers protection against fingerprinting and techniques based on it.

How it all works

We all know that scripts are required on websites to render images and videos. If these scripts are taken away, the website may not work properly.

Browser fingerprinting deals with adding codes to these scripts that are almost impossible to track. As the browser fingerprinting script looks just like the normal script, no one can make out if the website has the browser fingerprinting script in it.

These scripts collect multiple user data points like time zone, device information, etc., to keep track of them. Browser fingerprinting is also used for cross-site tracking.

There are various types of browser fingerprinting, such as the following:

  • WebGL fingerprinting
  • Device fingerprinting
  • Rendering fingerprinting
  • Canvas fingerprinting
  • Audio fingerprinting

Also Read: Best Fingerprint Lock Apps For Android Phones

Is it possible to avoid browser fingerprinting?

It doesn’t matter what scenario it is; there is always a way out. However, browser fingerprinting has very few ways. One option is choosing browsers that have built-in protection against such scripts.

There are also other options for ensuring that browser fingerprinting won’t be successful. The simplest option is to keep your browser as bare as possible. It will make it more difficult for fingerprinting to recognize your device from others.

Randomization. It is a brilliant way to change your attributes periodically. It, in turn, makes it challenging for the advertisers to identify you. Depending on your opinion, it might be an advantage or a downside to your online experience.

However, most users appreciate limiting the data ending up in advertisers’ hands. Therefore, more and more people choose privacy-focused browsers and other tools. Additionally, they might download VPN services to hide their activities and location information. Virtual Private Networks mask your IP address, making it pinpoint the regions you select. Thus, web entities will no longer identify your location or actions accurately.

Generalization. You can manipulate the browser API to mask your attributes excellently in this process. Therefore, you can blend in with the crowd, making you more untraceable. As an average user cannot use generalization and randomization, you need special tools. Some browsers and add-ons integrate this functionality.

Use an antivirus. Though it may not seem like an ideal solution for your problem, some antivirus software on the web has the anti-fingerprinting feature. This feature helps in undertaking the process of randomization and generalization for the users.

Also Read: Best Free VPN For Windows

Final Words

If you are one of those individuals who use the web regularly, you are likely a target of browser fingerprinting. If you don’t like to be followed on the web, you can undertake various methods to stop it. However, it can take a village to become anonymous and private online.

Harshita Sharma is a technical writer with quite a distinct understanding of the tech realm. She is a tech enthusiast who believes that tech knowledge should reach one and all and tries to convert the sketchy knowledge into the simplest possible form for making people understand the tech world better. When not playing with words, she loves to travel and explore new places. And, is a coffee & cricket connoisseur.

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