Browser Fingerprinting will be a new term to many people. What is it?
Browser fingerprinting identifies the computer and web browser you’re using. It’s a simple as that.
A browser fingerprint isn’t a cookie. You can control and delete your cookies. Browsers need to share a minimum set of values with a server to get you meaningful data. For example, whenever you visit a web site, your computer introduces itself to the server. It needs to pass information like:
- Your computer and operating system
- What browser and version you use
- Your preferred language and timezone
- Browser plug-ins
- Your screen resolution, among others
There is a 1 in 286,777 chance your computer has the same fingerprint as another.
Fingerprints for Good or Bad
Fingerprints help protect your identity. When you log into Google, Google assesses the likelihood that it is you. If you log back into the computer you normally use, the system might ask for your password before letting you in. But if you use a different computer, it might want to send a token to your cell phone as extra proof. After all, your new computer will have a different fingerprint from your usual one. Using only your password is riskier.
Let say someone has stolen your password then logged in from a computer in Eastern Europe with a Cyrillic keyboard… Google will probably ask you some more challenge questions as well.
This is all part of the “Zero Trust” security model. We don’t trust someone just because they have the right password; they also need to exhibit the right behaviour and context.
Sites that you don’t trust can also track your fingerprint to record your visit and return visits. They can build up profiles of users like you. This allows them to target products to your needs. They can also sell your information to advertising aggregators like Facebook or Google.
Maybe this doesn’t bother you. Many people feel that sacrificing personal privacy is the cost for getting ad content more aligned with their interest. But if you are concerned about being tracked, then consider browsers like Mozilla Firefox. Firefox has built-in fingerprint blocking. If you do block finger-printing, be aware that you may not be able to login easily to your gmail account. For more details, click here.