The New York Times recently published an article that details how advertisers use online “fingerprinting” to track users with up to 99 percent accuracy, and more importantly, how to prevent it.
The New York Times writes in an article titled “‘Fingerprinting’ to Track Us Online Is on the Rise. Here’s What to Do,” that advertisers are turning to invisible methods to track information about users and discover their identity, a practice that many may find intrusive and worrying. The Times goes on to discuss the rise in this practice and how users can prevent it.
What is it exactly? Fingerprinting involves looking at the many characteristics of your mobile device or computer, like the screen resolution, operating system and model, and triangulating this information to pinpoint and follow you as you browse the web and use apps. Once enough device characteristics are known, the theory goes, the data can be assembled into a profile that helps identify you the way a fingerprint would.
So how does fingerprinting work? How are these companies gaining access to users data collected through their cell phones and computers? The Times writes:
But fingerprinting collects seemingly innocuous characteristics that are generally shared by default to make apps and websites work properly.
With enough information gathered, fingerprinting can be very reliable. In a study last year in France, researchers found that about one-third of digital fingerprints they collected were unique and therefore identifiable. In a 2017 study, researchers at Lehigh University and Washington University tested a fingerprinting method that identified 99 percent of users.
How can Internet users protect against fingerprinting? The Times says that Apple has some of the best defenses:
Apple users have protections in Safari for computers and mobile devices.
For those who use iPhones and Macs, Apple introduced a fingerprinting defense mechanism in its Safari browser last year. It basically makes many Macs and iPhones look the same to a website by sharing the bare minimum of information that the site need to load properly. (For example, if you are using MacOS 10.14.5, the browser will tell the website only that you are using MacOS 10.14.)
To take advantage of this defense, just make sure you are running a recent version of the iPhone and Mac operating systems.
For Android users, experts suggest the Mozilla mobile browser, which included technology to block at least some of the data used to complete digital fingerprinting.
On other platforms like Windows computers, there are browser plug-ins that have similar features for Chrome and other browsers.
Now that we know more about how our private information is used to track and control our Internet experience, whether we consent or not, it is important to begin to protect our own privacy — we can no longer trust the Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe to do so.