Most people have never heard of browser fingerprinting before – but it’s a growing problem. Browser fingerprinting is a highly accurate way you can be identified and tracked whenever you go online, even if you’re using a good VPN service and other privacy measures.
Luckily there’s a relatively simple solution to this complex problem.
But first, exactly what is browser fingerprinting?
Whenever you go online, your computer or device provides the sites you visit with highly specific information about your system and settings. The use of this information to identify and track you online is known as device or browser fingerprinting. Researchers have found this method of identification to be extremely effective.
Why is this being done?
Your data is valuable.
The online advertising industry will use every resource available to acquire your data and track your internet activity. Tracking and data collection is a big business because more data means more advertisement revenue. Some websites also use browser fingerprinting to detect potential fraud, such as banks or dating websites (so it’s not all bad).
You can test how easy your device is to identify at the website amiunique.org, which has collected over 150,000 different device fingerprints for research purposes. The site will render your device fingerprint and assess how “unique” you are based on the following inputs:
- the User agent header
- the Accept header
- the Connection header
- the Encoding header
- the Language header
- the list of plugins
- the platform
- the cookies preferences (allowed or not)
- the Do Not Track preferences (yes, no or not communicated)
- the timezone
- the screen resolution and its color depth
- the use of local storage
- the use of session storage
- a picture rendered with the HTML Canvas element
- a picture rendered with WebGL
- the presence of AdBlock
- the list of fonts
Another great browser fingerprinting test is Panopticlick, which is a project run by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Will browser add-ons keep me safe?
While many people recommend a big list of privacy add-ons and extensions for your browser, this actually makes you more unique and easier to track. The catch-22 here is that the more browser plugins and add-ons you use, the more you stand out from all the other users online.
Even if you’re using a standard, “plain vanilla” browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, without any modifications or add-ons, you can still be tracked through the use of other inputs. As shown in the list above, there are lots of other values that can be used to create a unique fingerprint, such as WebGL and hardware configurations.
While a good VPN will help protect your privacy and security, there are many VPN scams and shady VPNs popping up lately. With all of the confusing/contradictory “reviews” appearing online, there are two main factors to focus on when selecting a VPN to protect your privacy:
- Jurisdiction – Where the VPN is legally based determines what laws and government it falls under. This has serious consequences for user privacy and data security. If the VPN is operating in a bad jurisdiction, such as the United States, UK, Australia or other 14 Eyes countries, authorities could easily force VPNs, data centers, or server hosts to log and hand over customer data.
- Test results – Many VPNs that look great on the surface do not actually perform well in testing. This is especially true because low-quality VPNs will leak IP addresses and DNS requests.