If you have been paying attention to internet security news for a while, device fingerprinting is a term that you are already familiar with. In the early 2010s, this method was deemed the best way to fight bots and spam accounts on social media. For a brief period, it worked too. Social media sites were able to identify and ban spammers from their platforms.
For those who are not familiar with device fingerprinting, however, you are not alone. The method is no longer touted as a way to fight spam for a specific reason: it is not used to track your internet activities across multiple websites. In fact, advertising networks are actively profiling your device in order to feed you better ads.
What Is Device Fingerprinting?
In simple terms, device fingerprinting is a way to identify and track users from the devices that they use to browse the web. Fingerprinting can be done in different ways, but most websites track IP addresses, device identifications, and other components like cookies to attribute users to their devices.
Device fingerprinting may seem harmless at first. Websites just need to know if you are a legitimate user, right? Well, not really. Being profiles based on the device you use, and other details sent to the web server, could result in your personal browsing history and other details being exploited.
For example, your IP address can be traced to a certain city or region, allowing advertisers to show ads from local businesses or ads that feature products that are available near you. However, the risk doesn’t stop there.
Understanding What You Share
Let’s take the standard server logging and see what you actually share when you visit a website. Your IP address gives away your location. Your browser also sends information about your device, the operating system you use, versions of apps and tools accessing the web server, and more.
When you add a cookie or tracking pixels such as Facebook Pixel, the number of information you give off is even more substantial. Browsing activity can be used to profile you as an internet user, which means advertisers can retarget you with their ads.
An easy way to get around this type of tracking is by using proxies. Reliable proxy providers offer services that help you mask your real IP address and information about the device you use. We will get to how to better protect yourself in a second, but click here if you want to learn more about proxies.
What Are the Risks?
Device fingerprinting is not just harmful because it exposes you to more ads. The complete profile that internet companies can now build on you is scary. Have you ever talked about going on a vacation to Vegas, and two minutes later an ad for a hotel in Vegas appears on your screen? Does that mean companies like Facebook are listening in on your conversations?
Listening in isn’t what they are doing. Instead, they learn about you from every website you visit and then build a scarily accurate profile of you to sell to advertisers. Facebook and other ad networks can predict your tendencies. The ad for a Vegas hotel appears because they predict that you will be planning a vacation to Vegas soon.
Device fingerprinting ties down your online activities even further. When you post something on Facebook, every word you write gets analyzed. The same is true for when you add photos to your Instagram account or when you visit travel sites just to take a peek at hotel prices in different travel destinations. Every detail is used to better understand your tendencies.
What’s scarier is the fact that device fingerprinting lets advertisers and tech companies track you beyond their own websites and services. Facebook Pixel is a very good example. Every site that has a Pixel tracker on them will report your activities on those sites back to Facebook. Tech companies can even identify multiple devices that you use when you connect through the same Wi-Fi network.
Protecting Yourself Online
Yes, internet tracking and device fingerprinting need to be heavily regulated, but it would be a mistake not to protect yourself from these practices first. This is where using a good proxy service whenever you are online becomes crucial.
A proxy service immediately hides your real IP address and device information. Instead, traffic coming through the proxy server will be identified as coming from the server itself. You hide behind a secure layer that protects your privacy from in-depth tracking.
The key here is choosing the right proxy service to use. Avoid free proxy and VPN services and go for a service provided by a reputable name. Use a proxy across multiple devices and you will still be protected from tracking.
As for device fingerprinting, it is clear that it is not a technology that will protect users and prevent spammers. It is being actively used for tracking and profiling, which means it is a technology that needs to be regulated for its invasion of privacy.