Just like regular fingerprints, a person’s browser fingerprint – “browserprint” can be used to identify online user behaviour.
Unique online ‘fingerprints’ left behind while using your device in public locations can reveal your identity, and can be used to track your movements, say scientists who are trying to find ways to protect against the fingerprinting of personal computers.
People leave behind online browser “fingerprints” at each location they visit on their internet browser, researchers said.
Almost like a regular fingerprint, a person’s browser fingerprint – or “browserprint” – is often unique to the individual. Such a fingerprint can be monitored, tracked and identified by companies and hackers.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia are working to find new methods of protecting against the fingerprinting of personal computers – and are now giving members of the community the chance to see their own computer browserprint.
“Fingerprinting on computers is invisible to most people but there are companies out there who are already using these techniques to learn more information about individuals, about their interests and their habits,” said Lachlan Kang, PhD student at the University of Adelaide.
“This can be quite a powerful information to have, especially if it’s used to tailor advertising to you,” Kang said.
In countries that are less benign, it could also be used to spy on people, he said.
“Computer users generally are growing in awareness of privacy issues, but currently there’s little that can be done to counter fingerprinting,” Kang said.
“This is because fingerprints build up in between the websites you’re visiting – your browsing history and personal information can be pooled in the gaps between those websites,” he said.
“Simply clearing your browsing history won’t make any difference to this, because the information is already out there,” he added.
Kang is seeking the public’s help to better understand which fingerprinting techniques are the most powerful, so that he can help to build defences against them.
“We need to analyse a large number of online fingerprints – as many as 10,000 of them would be helpful. Currently we have 2500, which is a great start,” he said.