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ACM Opinion

Web Browsers Leave 'fingerprints' Behind as You Surf the Net


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New research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has found that an overwhelming majority of web browsers have unique signatures--creating identifiable "fingerprints" that could be used to track you as you surf the Internet.

The findings were the result of an experiment EFF conducted with volunteers who visited http://panopticlick.eff.org/. The website anonymously logged the configuration and version information from each participant's operating system, browser, and browser plug-ins--information that websites routinely access each time you visit--and compared that information to a database of configurations collected from almost a million other visitors. EFF found that 84% of the configuration combinations were unique and identifiable, creating unique and identifiable browser "fingerprints." Browsers with Adobe Flash or Java plug-ins installed were 94% unique and trackable.

"We took measures to keep participants in our experiment anonymous, but most sites don't do that," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley. "In fact, several companies are already selling products that claim to use browser fingerprinting to help websites identify users and their online activities. This experiment is an important reality check, showing just how powerful these tracking mechanisms are."

From Electronic Frontier Foundation
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