What is browser fingerprint

What is browser fingerprinting or the digital fingerprint?

Category: Internet and Society

Even without cookies, you leave traces on the Internet that companies use to identify you. The browser saves a lot of information about you through what is known as the digital fingerprint. As soon as there is a connection to the Internet, the browser transfers a lot of data to the server. This data bundle contains the browser used, the installed plugins, your language settings, the installed fonts, the websites you last visited and other features. Companies use this information to show you personalized advertising. Deactivating cookies is therefore not sufficient to avoid traces on the Internet. Every time you go to a website, you leave a digital fingerprint. It is very likely that this is sufficient for the precise identification of individual users.


Active or passive fingerprinting

Experts differentiate between passive and active fingerprinting.

Passive fingerprinting occurs when the browser automatically sends certain information to the web server. The user agent transmits the browser used and the operating system of your computer. The IP address is also one of the passive features.

At the active fingerprinting the website reads the information, for example using Javascript or Flash. The client determines the installed fonts, the plugins used, the screen resolution or the system time.

Personalized advertising thanks to browser fingerprinting

The data is mainly transmitted for the purpose of displaying personalized advertising. Even without cookies, it is possible to display suitable advertising messages using the digital fingerprint. The saved configuration data are used as an identification feature. The deletion of this digital data bundle is not feasible.

Are all digital fingerprints individual?

No. There are a few system configurations with identical characteristics. However, these are exceptions. Usually the fingerprints are different. Only a few users have exactly the same configuration. The installed fonts, the plugins used or the browser version often differ. A distinction is not possible only in the rare event that all the data stored in the digital fingerprint match.

On AmIUnique you can see the various features of your digital fingerprint. The probability of leaving unique traces on the network is therefore very high.

Browser fingerprint tools

Here you can see which data your user agent contains: installed browser, IP address, operating system.

This simple tool shows you your personal browser fingerprint. After clicking on Show full results for fingerprinting you will see the information submitted.

Panopticlick determines whether your browser is blocking tracking ads and invisible trackers. You will also receive an assessment of whether your browser's digital fingerprint is unique.

Avoid the digital fingerprint

You can make browser fingerprinting more difficult by making a few small changes. The less individual the settings, the more difficult it is to clearly identify them. A failed browser has disadvantages compared to a current browser in a new version. So use the latest version of a widely used browser to make digital fingerprinting more difficult.

If necessary, change your user agent with a user agent switcher and install the add-ons available for Firefox or Chrome. After the installation, the browser sends other than the correct information to the server. But be careful: An IP with constantly changing user agent data quickly triggers suspicion and you may end up on spam lists.

Deactivating JavaScript prevents the browser from actively querying information. The system language, the plugins used or the fonts installed remain anonymous. Some websites no longer work properly without JavaScript, so this method also has significant disadvantages.

If you implement special protective measures, you are again different from the other users, so that the positive effect may be reversed.

There are numerous other ways to restrict browser fingerprinting. Almost all of these methods have clearly noticeable disadvantages in daily surfing. Installing only the most necessary plugins, a common browser and a common operating system, are simple measures that make browser fingerprinting more difficult.

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