What Is Digital Fingerprinting and How to Minimize It?

by Dan Goodin
07 Jun 2022

"Proxy & VPN Virtuoso. With a decade in the trenches of online privacy, Dan is your go-to guru for all things proxy and VPN. His sharp insights and candid reviews cut through the digital fog, guiding you to secure, anonymous browsing."

Digital fingerprinting is another identificatory component many users want to avoid. There are many reasons to dislike browser fingerprinting, but the main one has always been the desire to stay 100% anonymous. Alas, the Internet plane is a chaotic place with many informational snoopers. So, let us explain the essence of device fingerprinting and how to eschew that. 

What is a Browser Fingerprint?

Designation and meaning 

That combo of words means a tracking procedure automatically when you browse a site. Analogically to cookies and other tracking files, a device fingerprint gathers info on a user. The designation corresponds to the initial concept of fingerprinting. You visit a place (a website in this case), touch something (tap/click), and the objects get your trace. And if there is an informational gatherer, your trails will give them enough data to spot you in a crowd. 

The gathered data 

Suppose you have just let digital fingerprinting happen. The website memorizes some of your distinctive features. So, what info is now in a website’s database? That is: 

  • The device that is functioning right now. That might be a phone, tablet, and any other browsing tool. So, the website hosts will get info on your operational system. But the model and other peculiarities become clear to them in parallel. 
  • Your browser. That information is vital for advertisers, as they need it to demonstrate various materials. Moreover, the browser info is significant for developers. They need to optimize their projects for different browsers. 
  • The software on your device. Some software advertises products/services. But many snoopers with malicious intents might want to know what antivirus program you prefer — for instance. 
  • Your time zone. That narrows identification vastly. 
  • Your currently used language. That information might disclose where you come from if it is not a worldwide used language. 
  • Your adblocker (dis)activation. Some pages will not show you a piece of content if your adblocker is functioning right now. 
  • Screen resolution, color depth, drivers, graphics cards, connected devices, etc. 

All those pieces of info make you stand out from the crowd. It is the same situation when a stranger knows you have short black hair, dark brown skin, a cat tattoo on the right arm, and an earring in the left ear. That information is sufficient to point at you when you are in the crowd. And if advertisers merely want your attention to make a living, some other people might have ill-natured plans.

Browser fingerprinting VS cookies: identical or different? 

You might suppose that the functioning patterns of device fingerprinting and cookies are alike. While that is a smart supposition, objective reality shows differences. To be more precise, there are two salient dissimilarities. 

First and foremost, cookies do not start their work if you do not consent. And you always have the right to restrict them if you do not want the site to gather data about your preferences, devices, etc. Recall: every time you visit a site, there is a banner saying, “We use cookies, ok-ok?”. 

Computerized fingerprinting, in turn, never asks if you have anything against data gathering. Furthermore, a scheme flooding technique used to deanonymize you might cope with the challenge even if you use a secure browser. Sometimes even extra-secure tools like the Tor browser cannot shield you from digital observers — as happened in 2021

The second noteworthy difference is that you can delete cookies, but you cannot erase your device’s fingerprint. When you close the tab, cookies stop functioning, but your browser fingerprinting results remain in the plane. And those data pieces might disclose everything: from your online history to your relationship status. And an incognito mode will not shield you from that. 

Why use that all?

Web tracking might sound scary, but mostly that will not hurt you physically or mentally. As a rule, device fingerprinting is important for advertisers and developers. That is vital to personalize your experience and find your soft spots for some products or services. So, 95% of observers want to make money, legally gathering materials that describe their shopping habits. Yet, that 5% of onlookers…

We must highlight that the Internet can be dangerous. Hackers and crackers are waiting for your mistake. And your digital fingerprinting for them is like the scent of blood for a shark in the ocean. 

How to Avoid Browser Fingerprints? 

Incognito mode! Disabling cookies! Deleting the search history! Adblocker — right now!! That all, alas, will not stop digital fingerprinting from occurring. A fake mustache and extra dark sunglasses will not make your actual fingerprint alter its look.

Notwithstanding, there are programs and ways to avoid deanonymization. So, you can restrict computerized fingerprinting by: 

1. Simplifying your traces 

Some web browsers are perfect tools for snatching computer fingerprints. Let us enumerate the worst options first: 

  • Microsoft Edge
  • Google Chrome; 
  • Firefox; 
  • Internet Explorer; 
  • Safari; 
  • Opera Mini. 

The mentioned browsers maximize the availability of your info. They cannot shield you from info gatherers who need data about your fonts, device ID, the canvas element, IP, etc. 

Moreover, the browsers never signal that digital fingerprinting is in the process. So, market agents get all that and even more. Yet, extra secure browsers like Tor will notify you of digital fingerprinting attempts.

2. Spoofing (sometimes called decoying)

That word meant overburdening networks with faked files with the same name. The file could be 100% fake or incomplete. Regardless of the content, that was necessary to fight copyright infringement. But for our case, that means mismatching info between the user and the browser. For instance, sound perturbing and noises during canvas rendering hinder data collection. 

Browser fingerprinting spoofing is the prerogative of the Brave browser. Tor, in turn, does not allow spoofing but generalizes your image. Some browsers might combine those actions for ultimate security. 

3. Getting more browsers to function

All browsers use different digital fingerprinting techniques. So, you might want to switch between browsers to confuse data gatherers. Yet, matching fingerprints might disclose information about your device. Thus, this method is not a 100% guarantee. 

4. Randomization 

Using proxies and VPNs might help you switch the IP and hide your trace. Computerized fingerprinting will still occur. Notwithstanding, there will be many contrasting data pieces that will make it challenging to identify you. 

Yet, you must research what programs will help with that to the maximum extent. For instance, some VPNs tend to have faulty kill switches. So, the kill switch might not perform, disclosing your IP and other details. Also, note that IP switching might be manual or automated. 

5. Scripts blockage 

Some browsers merely block canvas fingerprinting and other methods of data gathering. Still, the attempts might be unsuccessful. So, we suggest having a mix of tools and methods to secure your browsing experience. 

Surprise: Device Fingerprinting Can Be Useful 

Let us switch to the brighter side. Sure, leaving a browser fingerprint might lead to detriments, but that is rare. Still, browser fingerprinting is essential to keep you secure from digital attackers. For instance, that component allows preventing and mitigating DDoSing issues. Also, a device fingerprint method is standard for bank workers because it can detect identity theft and other problems. So, do not suppose that device fingerprinting is a negative concept solely. There are positives, as with any other phenomenon. 

Final Words 

Your anonymity is significant, and you have the right to boost your data protection. Many ways can help with that, but now all methods are 100% reliable. Remember that there is no way to erase browser fingerprinting. Even script blocking might not shield you from all procedures. So, we recommend combining two or more techniques to ensure no one is watching your Internet voyages.

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