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The exact configuration of lines and swirls that make up your fingerprints are thought to be unique to you. Similarly, your browser fingerprint is a set of information that’s collected from your phone or laptop each time you use it that advertisers can eventually link back to you.
By combining this information, it’s possible for advertisers to recognise you as you move from one website to the next. Multiple studies have found that around 80-90 % of browser fingerprints are unique. Fingerprinting is often done by advertising technology companies that insert their code onto websites.
While there’s little transparency around the companies that run fingerprinting scripts, the practice is verifiably widespread across the web. Many of the websites you visit will fingerprint your device; research from 2020 found a quarter of the world’s top 10,000 websites running fingerprinting scripts.
New ways of fingerprinting are being created too. For instance, earlier this year researchers proved they could create fingerprints of GPUs to identify people. Tracking people across different browsers is also possible.
A principal security researcher at Kaspersky, says the technique can often be used as a way to spot potential fraud, such as banks using it to identify suspicious behavior.
However, the widespread use of fingerprinting for targeted advertising and tracking people’s online movement raises legal problems. Across Europe, regulators have been calling for a clampdown on cookie banners, which appear on websites asking people if they give their permission to be tracked.
Unlike cookies, it’s hard to stop fingerprinting. Cookies are stored in your browser, and it’s possible to delete your cookie history, block them, or turn them off entirely. With the fingerprinting, it's all invisible.
Various browser plugins claim to help reduce or stop fingerprinting, but there’s a mix in quality. A 2019 study by a researcher from Snap and two US academics found many anti-fingerprinting tools aren’t that useful. The biggest thing you can do to stop fingerprinting is pick a browser that limits tracking and increases privacy.
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