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What is Fingerprinting

By J.Austine
What is Fingerprinting

When talking about digital fingerprinting, it’s where remote services or sites collect information about a machine a subscriber uses. In turn, the information is put together to make some unique picture or fingerprint of the subscriber’s device.

The primary forms of fingerprinting include:
Browser fingerprinting is where information is delivered through a browser when users visit various remote sites.
Device fingerprinting is where information is delivered via apps that a user installs on their devices.
Often, fingerprinting is done by a third party rather than the person visiting the site directly or the app in use by a user. When a person uses their device, attackers may install a third-party tracker on the installed apps or the sites visited.
This ensures the company tracks an individual's activity when browsing through different sites or the different apps in use. The trackers do have knowledge of the daily activities of a user.  In turn, it gives specific information on a user's activity at one particular time and location when using a device.

Fingerprinting and Retargeting

Fingerprinting is done mainly by tracking companies that use the information they achieve. The information acquired can be sold to data brokers or users with ads as their prime target. Like Digital advertising, it’s a business priced at over hundreds of billions of dollars.
So, to ensure a customer returns, marketers tune their information according to the customer’s previous browsing history. This is a powerful trick marketers incorporate to generate revenue and boost click-through rates.
The standard way marketers use to retarget ads is through apps and browser cookies. The trick provides a user’s ID for both Android and iOS phones. However, a user may also disadvantage a company by often clearing cookies and advertiser’s IDs. The action removes the identifier linked to a mobile device or a particular browser.
For example, let's take browsing habit as a string connecting different pins in a particular board.  Each pin is set to represent a visited site, and the string may trace the visited site to gather information. If you clear the cookies, it will cut the string into various segments that are smaller in size. This way, a tracker cannot be in a position to see the sites you've visited.
Fingerprinting technology puts a string that can’t be cut to make a persistent identifier. It uses your device or browser features against you because the identifier acts like a summary of your browsing activities. Fingerprinting exists to evade the normal control users possess that allows them to control their browsers. To control your device or browser, you have to implore special tools that counterattack fingerprinting.

How Effective is Fingerprinting as a Tracking Procedure

To know the effectiveness of fingerprinting, it has to meet the following criteria:
It must have persistency features
If a fingerprint changes rapidly, there is no way that the tracker can tell a user’s browsing pattern.  The ability to link such visits is vital to know that the same user visits particular websites or uses apps over a period of time. The persistent identifier comes as a cookie's substitute but can be deleted by a user. For a fingerprint, it's irremovable because it doesn't store anything on a user's machine.
It must be unique
In case users possess a similar fingerprint, a tracker often loses its ability to identify the user having a fingerprint. When a tracker doesn't have this ability, it can't track the individual user. This makes it hard to place them in respective marketing categories like aircraft enthusiasts or baking hobbyists. In the recent Panopticlick study 2010, quite a number of browsers fulfill the threshold of being unique and have persistency as a feature.

Strategic Ways of Counter-Fingerprinting

There are strategic ways laid out for all the fingerprint tools to follow in order to be effective. Mostly they are one or two strategies that must be abided by to be successful. The first strategy is removing one or two criteria that make the process of fingerprinting effective. Secondly, develop a tracker's list and ensure each is blocked from accessing a browser or a mobile device.
Quite a number of tools can attempt to break the persistency of fingerprints. Tools like canvas fingerprint or AudioContext fingerprinting can randomize outcomes of specific features. That happens to be effective in breaking persistency. However, a tracker may be in a position to find the randomization tool in use since it can be a fingerprinting characteristic. So, tread carefully when looking for randomization tools.
Besides, browsers may also combat fingerprinting by making all browser instances look alike. This means that all the browsing instances are made to be the same, so you cannot pinpoint anything unique. This method is what Tor Browser uses to fight fingerprinting. It's effective when done the right way to combat fingerprinting.

Customizing Your Settings Isn't Effective When Combating Fingerprinting.

Customizing settings never produces the intended results, more so when combating fingerprinting.
For example, you may want to change your user-agent string. The string identifies the browser and the latest version to the common browser user-agent available on the web. It can be a good idea, but it may not result in low trackable fingerprints. Some instances make a user more fingerprintable instead of reducing, which makes it a failed mission.
This brings us to know how your user-agent string is independent from other fingerprintable metrics on a browser. Like Safari iOS is a non-fingerprintable browser because of similarity in software, hardware, and drivers across all devices.
Even though Safari for iOS is not a common user-agent, it would become unique if a user were to alter its user-agent string only. The result would be epic with Safari for iOS ideal for canvas fingerprinting and also have Chrome for Windows user-agent.
For this reason, people avoiding fingerprinting must take utmost care. They may hurt their privacy while in pursuit of helping it unknowingly. Consider blending by joining the private pool of users like you with the same fingerprint across all metrics. This can't be achieved by changing settings in your device or browser. Consider choosing Tor browser, Firefox, or Brave that uses techniques that makes everything look similar in the browser.

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