A physical fingerprint has been a standard identifying feature for decades. Our prints are completely unique to us, and they can reveal where we have been and what we have done, as well as to prove whether we have been the culprit or the victim of someone else’s wrongdoing. Every time your fingers touch a surface, they leave a mark, some evidence that you have been there.
We don’t tend to think about our computer or internet connection as having anything in common. Many people are aware of IP addresses, and how they are tied to individual connections. However, IP addresses are reused by internet service providers and can also be obscured relatively easily with a proxy server. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have truly unique digital fingerprints – just that they are a little bit more complicated than we might think.
What is Device Fingerprinting?
Many people are surprised to find out that this information is even available to the websites that they visit, let alone that it is being used to build a profile of them. When it comes to identifying devices online, the IP address is only one small part of the equation.
Fingerprinting is also more complex than well known methods called cookies. A cookie is something that is placed on a device so that websites can identify that specific device or user in the future. Fingerprinting, on the other hand, is about ascertaining whether one device with a particular set of attributes is the same as another device with those same attributes accessing the service on a different day.
Most of the time fingerprinting is used to detect bots, as their fingerprints do not look like real user’s fingerprints, but the technology has been seeping into marketing and data tracking circles and is used to identify individuals from seemingly anonymized data.