Fingerprinting: Is It Really a Privacy Threat?

Nowadays, maintaining privacy on the internet can be quite complicated. Apart from the classic identification methods, such as the search for an IP address or the use of cookies, today, much more sophisticated strategies are already able to assemble a complete digital profile of users without great effort. One of these methods is called fingerprinting.

This article explains what fingerprinting is and what tactics you can use to minimize the risks it poses.

What is fingerprinting?

Fingerprinting is a technique to identify internet users by collecting seemingly harmless data, such as their browser and operating system settings. For example, information is collected about your screen resolution, browser version, installed plugins, and time zone, among others.

With the combination of all these elements, companies can assemble a unique profile that can serve as a “fingerprint” of the user on the network. Having this identifier in hand, it is easy for third parties to track your online behavior, analyze the pages you visit, the products you view and purchase, or the TV shows you watch.

Is fingerprinting a threat to privacy?

The answer to this question is: It depends. After all, like everything related to technology, fingerprinting also has two sides. Initially, its use was dedicated to the security of banking and financial systems on the internet to detect suspicious and potentially fraudulent behavior.

Now, fingerprinting mainly serves marketing companies who use the collected profiles to target their advertising campaigns and generate more profits. And, of course, in extreme cases, this information can also fall into the wrong hands and be used for less legitimate purposes. A hacker, at worst, could use them to commit cyber crimes such as phishing and data theft.

How to avoid fingerprinting

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent fingerprinting completely. Common tactics, such as regularly deleting browser cookies, accessing incognito mode, or using more than one browser, cannot prevent you from building your profile on the web.

On the other hand, users can employ some simple techniques to minimize the effects of fingerprinting, ensuring a higher level of privacy. Below you can see some of them.

Use a VPN

For those who don’t know what a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is, it is a digital security service based on encryption to protect your customers’ personal information. Since VPNs can hide the user’s IP (swapping it for a server’s IP), they can be used to make it difficult to collect data by fingerprinting.

The logic is that as multiple users use the servers at the same time, the direct association between an individual, their browsing habits, and their IP address becomes impossible. After all, the same IP is being shared by different people.

In this sense, using popular VPN providers is the most advisable for the best results. The reason is that they have more users and can also make more servers available to cloud any engine that wants to track your internet habits.

Use popular browsers

To stay hidden in the crowd, the safest choice is always to camouflage yourself among other people. When using a popular browser, you can mix with millions of users who use the same program, making it difficult to differentiate your profile.

Another strategy is not to install plugins or make additional settings in the browser. The reason is that, by keeping the browser as “neutral” and “common” as possible, you manage to blend in with the crowd of people who, because they don’t know much about technology, end up using the browser in its original state.

Update your system and your browser

The golden rule is not to stand out from the crowd. Since most people update their programs and devices, leaving yours out of date can serve as a differentiating factor – making it easier to fingerprint your profile.

In addition, having the latest version of all your digital tools is a fundamental step to preserving the security of your devices. After all, with updates, they get the latest improvements and bug fixes.

Disable JavaScript

The fingerprinting engines run in JavaScript, so by disabling the function on your device, theoretically, you get a form of “protection” against collecting your data. However, it is important to note that many websites and platforms use JavaScript to improve user experience, so turning it off could negatively impact your browsing, with some pages or features not working properly.

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