An online privacy group has found that an overwhelming
majority of web browsers have unique signatures - creating
identifiable "fingerprints" that can be used to track you as
you surf the internet.
The findings were the result of an experiment Electronic
Frontier Foundation conducted with volunteers who visited
The website anonymously logged the configuration and version
information from each participant's operating system,
browser, and browser plug-ins - information that websites
routinely access each time you visit.
It then compared that information to a database of
configurations collected from almost a million other
EFF found 84% of the configuration combinations were unique
and identifiable, creating unique and identifiable browser
Browsers with Adobe Flash or Java plug-ins installed were 94%
unique and trackable.
"We took measures to keep participants in our experiment
anonymous, but most sites don't do that," EFF senior staff
technologist Peter Eckersley said.
"In fact, several companies are already selling products that
claim to use browser fingerprinting to help websites identify
users and their online activities.
"This experiment is an important reality check, showing just
how powerful these tracking mechanisms are."
One of the more concerning parts of the experiement is that
those who visitied the website were more likely to have some
interest in internet privacy and have taken some steps to
"While our sample of browsers is quite biased, it is likely
to be representative of the population of internet users who
pay enough attention to privacy to be aware of the minimal
steps, such as limiting cookies or perhaps using proxy
servers for sensitive browsing, that are generally agreed to
be necessary to avoid having most of one's browsing
and collated by various parties," the study's authors said.
EFF found that some browsers were less likely to contain
They also found some browser plug-ins may be able to be
configured to limit the information your browser shares with
the websites you visit.
But overall, it was very difficult to reconfigure a browser
to make it less identifiable.