Browser fingerprinting is a sneaky practice that allows marketers and data brokers to track you across the internet even if you use a VPN.
Much like a human fingerprint, browser fingerprints are a very specific identifier. If you are concerned about privacy, you need to be aware of how browser fingerprinting works, and what you can do to protectyour data privacy with the top browser fingerprinting checkers.
By wiping away your prints as you browse the web, you’ll flummox the trackers — and keep your data private!
What is browser fingerprinting?
While they aren’t 100% unique like those on your fingers, browser fingerprints are incredibly complex and allow marketers to track your online usage across the web.
Many people use VPNs or other blockers to hide their IP addresses and locations while browsing the web. These are important tools in the data privacy toolbox. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to stop browser fingerprinting, which is the latest strategy online marketers use.
Browser fingerprinting is an accurate method of connecting browsers to consumer demographics, which then allows marketers, companies and data brokers to track your activity across multiple websites and apps and serve you targeted marketing.
These fingerprints are not affected by cookies, which still widely used to track your behavior. But, third-party cookies, which are the primary type of cookies used to collect your browsing data across the internet, are being phased out.
Browser fingerprinting replaces cookies as the primary means of tracking your digital behaviors. Marketers and data brokers can trace these digital fingerprints back to you and are a threat to your digital privacy.
The truth is, it’s not always used nefariously. Some positive uses of browser fingerprinting include banks and dating websites checking for fraud.
The way they work is that websites collect information about your browser type and your operating system. The fingerprint includes other information such as your language preference, IP address, HTTP request header, device plugins you are running, your time zone, flash plugin data, installed fonts, timestamps, Silverlight data and more.
All of these specifics that your computer and browsers operate with create a unique dataset. Data brokers and marketers can build a profile around that data.
One in 286,777 browsers shares the same fingerprint with other users on the internet, according to a Panopticklick study. Consequently, this allows websites to track users with a high level of certainty.
It isn’t easy for marketers to track users with common applications and settings. One example would be those on a brand new computer with default settings. But, once you start adding fonts, plugins and more, your fingerprint becomes more unique and trackable.
When that happens, here come the ads.
In addition to browser fingerprinting, companies track your behavior by device fingerprinting, which identifies who you are based on your device’s unique fingerprint (more here: what is device fingerprinting).
When used in combination, browser and device fingerprints provide a nearly ironclad way to connect everything you do across all digital channels into a single profile that’s just as good as cookies — if not better, since you can’t delete your fingerprints like you can with cookies!
The top browser fingerprinting checkers
Browser fingerprinting checkers will tell you how “at risk” you are.
These browser fingerprinting checkers will not only tell you how “unique” your score is, but they will give you a glimpse into how much information is being tracked from your devices.
Be warned. It’s a lot of information that the average person provides just within the browser fingerprint!
Deviceinfo.me is a very barebones website that serves one purpose. It provides you with a snapshot of all of the information about your system, and is a snapshot of your browser fingerprint.
Am I Unique
Another top browser fingerprinting checker is the open-source website amiunique.org.
The website’s stated purpose is to allow users to learn how identifiable they are on the Internet and to study “the diversity of browser fingerprints and providing developers with data to help them design good defenses.”
If you wish to check your browser fingerprint, go to the homepage and click “View my browser fingerprint.” Please note, the website will collect your browser fingerprint and put a cookie on your browser for four months to help with their purpose.
Am I Unique allows users to download their browser fingerprint and also features a browser extension for Chrome that will keep track of your fingerprint over time.
Cover Your Tracks
Cover Your Tracks is a website run by the digital privacy nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. This free service allows users to test their browsers to see how well they are protected from tracking and fingerprinting.
The report, which is available at the click of a button, will provide you with three indicators.
First is whether or not your browser is blocking tracking ads.
Second is whether your browser is blocking invisible trackers.
Third indicates whether you are protecting yourself from fingerprinting.
Hidester, a VPN company, also offers a free browser fingerprint test. Hidester is unique in that it will tell you your browser fingerprint’s ID.
There’s not a ton you can do with this ID code, but it is nonetheless interesting to see.
Privacy.net is a robust website that serves one simple purpose. It highlights privacy violations and makes people aware of how much of their information is being tracked.
The analyzer from the website features a five-step analysis.
The first step is your basic information and will display your IP address (if you aren’t using a VPN).
Second is an autofill test that will show you how websites can take advantage of your browser’s autofill capabilities from past forms you have filled out.
Third is a user account test, which will show you which accounts you are logged into from your browser.
The fourth is a browser capability test, which can be used to create a fingerprint.
Fifth is a fingerprint analysis.
How to prevent browser fingerprinting
As you can see, browser fingerprinting is a sneaky way for companies to track your activities across the internet.
There are a number of defenses against this practice, but none are 100% foolproof.
A few quick tips are to limit the number of extensions and plugins you use. Keep your software updated. Browse in incognito or private mode. Use the Tor browser and lastly, use a VPN.
For more tips, check out our article on what is browser fingerprinting and how to prevent it.