Understanding how people are monetized, surveilled, and tracked on the web is important. It is known fact that these days data rules everything around us. Anonymity is no longer a given when browsing the web. The internet no longer ensures privacy and now dominates the information economy. In order to generate revenue, advertisers and tech firms identify, track, and monetize your very move on the internet. Such an exploitation is pursued under the pretense of offering a more personalized digital experience. However, people have started to understand the importance of privacy.

In fact, around 90 percent of Americans reported privacy as very important in 2015 according to a Pew Research Center survey. It explains why internet-savvy users install ad-blockers for warding off malicious cookies and using VPN software to ask their IP address. It has become common for even casual internet users to clear cookie cache or to utilize private browsing functions.

As privacy awareness grows, most users consider online surveillance as the norm and complacently agree to be constantly monitored in order to benefit from personalization and convenience. Such a view is a risk to the fundamentals of liberty. It brings us to the digital fingerprint which consists of tiny bits of personal data. It is a data-driven identifier that is in the hands of numerous corporate entities. Therefore, the idea of being truly anonymous online is anything but true. However, you have a right to privacy and to know when it is violated. If you are concerned about your privacy, you need to learn more about browser fingerprinting.

What Is Browser Fingerprinting?

Browser fingerprinting is a tracking technique that was initially developed for security reasons. It can easily identify individual users based on their device and browser settings. Your browser ensures certain information about your device such as language settings, location, operating system, and screen resolution are available in order for the websites to display the correct information. These details form the foundation of your digital fingerprint. Similar to how detectives piece together clues, trackers utilize the data to create a fingerprint and use it to trace your internet activity. Even though it might seem unpractical to develop a unique fingerprint using innocuous data, there is a lot to achieve from tracking your digital footprint.

Besides, after your digital fingerprint has been assembled, it becomes more and more accurate as you continue to browse the internet. Developments in cross-browser fingerprinting enable the identification of users 99 percent of the time which means that trackers would still be able to use your digital fingerprint even if you employ a multitude of privacy precautions by re-identifying your device whenever you visit a website.

Why Is Your Digital Fingerprint Used and By Whom?

Precautionary methods have become more accessible due to an increase in public concern over internet privacy. It has made traditional cookie-based tracking untenable. The decline in cookie efficacy has resulted in trackers seeking advanced methods for monitoring users. Most companies which pioneered browser fingerprinting have seen a rise in commercial opportunity and have expanded their service towards online tracking. Browser fingerprinting is only one of the tracking techniques used by the companies. They also referred to as data brokers as they use digital fingerprinting to trace your internet activity discreetly and collect little bits of data of your identity. Even though trackers cannot match your activity, the data they obtain from the websites you visit, searches you make, and the social platforms you use are personally identifiable which means that they can use this data for building a general profile about who you are and sell the insight to marketers and advertisers who can use it for serving content recommendation and personalized ads. Although they violate user privacy, online tracking techniques are not all that bad.

For instance, browser fingerprinting is used for security and authentication. It prevents credit card fraud, identity theft, and software piracy. Software security firms provide enterprise solutions which employ fingerprinting technology to enable websites to identify, track, and block cybercriminals. Besides, these tracking techniques have allowed the modern internet to exist. It is the large players that shape the internet and help run the internet through online advertising. Facebook and Alphabet made a majority of their profits from digital advertising in 2017 – 97 percent and 88 percent to be precise. Therefore, it is online advertising that supports free journalism. If there were no ads, we would have very few options to stay informed.

Moreover, privacy is possibly one of the most difficult things to tackle in the digital age. Companies violate our privacy on one hand and help sustain the web on the other. Thus, many people accept this condition as nature and do not worry about privacy concerns. But, we deserve equal access to convenience and privacy.

What Can You Do?

The easiest approach that you can adopt is to protect yourself as much as possible and prevent the creation of your digital fingerprint. It involves undertaking appropriate measures for ensuring privacy. But, browser fingerprinting is difficult to circumvent. Although you can use privacy-focused browsers or block JavaScript using an extension, there is just so much that you can do. Furthermore, some measures may end up making it easier to create your digital fingerprint. Education is necessary to ensure privacy. Advocacy and innovation can play a huge role in helping boost privacy. Government policy has been slow to react to privacy concerns.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was the first major win for privacy-concerned customers. These European Union rules helped provide users with greater control over personal data online. The GDPR proves that consumer advocacy is possible and prove useful. Spreading knowledge about privacy will allow for privacy-focused development. The fact is that innovation is necessary for bringing online tracking reforms. Besides, privacy is important for ensuring that corporate entities are unable to exploit society and culture. Only time will tell whether developments will be made to regulate the internet or not.