How does digital fingerprinting differ from a cookie?
This question was answered on September 9, 2021. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
The notion that you could be anonymous on the Internet was an attraction in the early day, but it’s quite obvious that those days are long gone.
Virtually everything you do online is tracked and added to your ‘dossier’ primarily for targeted advertising purposes. Ask any digital advertising executive about the ability to target customers using the Internet and watch how excited they get about the possibilities.
The technology for tracking users and keeping track of them over a long period of time has exploded and become a huge business, so don’t expect things to change any time soon.
The most common way your behavior is tracked is through the use of ‘cookies’, which are small text files that are placed on your computer with information about your online activities.
This file is a unique identifier based on your past activities – kind of like a grocery store loyalty card. The cookie itself doesn’t contain any of your personal information, but because it’s a unique ID, it’s tied to a database that contains your past behaviors.
Cookies also make it possible to go to a website and automatically log-in or return to an e-commerce site to see what you left in the shopping cart.
When you delete a cookie, any of the information that was tied to it still exists in their database, but it can no longer serve as a unique ID. It also means any of the useful info such as auto-login are removed, requiring you to manually sign in on your next visit.
The standard interaction between your browser and a website provides info to the website about your computer’s operating system, your IP address, the brand and version of your browser, your screen resolution, your connection speed, the date and time along with a host of other details.
Much of the intent of this interaction was to allow the website to deliver it’s content in the best way possible based on your configuration or type of device you were using.
If you’d like to see the extreme details that your browser provides to every website you visit, check out the ‘detailed’ section at MyBrowserInfo.com (https://bit.ly/3A1DMUh).
There are over 70 different items that can be determined, which is where the ‘fingerprinting’ concept comes from.
In an ironic twist, the use of browser privacy plug-ins designed to thwart tracking can actually help make your fingerprint more unique.
It’s very unlikely every single detail will be identical on any two computers and because this information is automatically provided, it’s a much more persistent unique identifier than a cookie that can be deleted.
In fact, your fingerprint can make it possible to tie back to a cookie that has been deleted, which allows the website or advertising network to continue to add to your dossier.
Test Your Browser
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a free tool that allows you to test the various browsers you are using to see which one provides the most protection against fingerprinting: https://coveryourtracks.eff.org
I previously wrote about the Brave browser (https://bit.ly/3A1k76P) which does a good job of randomizing the information that would normally allow fingerprinting to occur.
About the author
Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on September 9, 2021