Canvas Fingerprinting Is Tracking You & It Can’t Be Blocked

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The subject of big data is a hot one these days. Advertisers want it so they can learn more about our online and digital habits for better ad targeting. Consumers want to protect it and keep personal data to themselves. Some big data is gathered by way of online cookies. Whether you find them to be a nuisance or acceptable most of the time cookie settings can be adjusted to support your privacy needs. But, what happens when tracking can’t be turned off? What options do you have?

A new type of tracking known as canvas fingerprinting is a computer code that creates a hidden image that’s unique to a user’s device. These tracking images — fingerprints — are used to build profiles based on user activity. Similar to a cookie, canvas fingerprinting tracks websites visited to determine online habits. This information is used deliver relevant ads, content and other data.

Unfortunately, canvas fingerprints are not easy to block. Simple browser privacy settings and other anti-tracking tools have little to no impact on preventing fingerprinting from operating. Because fingerprinting can’t completely be eliminated you can take some steps to stymie tracking.

  • Turn off JavaScript from loading in your browser
  • Use a browser extension like Disconnect to block ad tracking
  • Set-up the NoScript browser extension to block JavaScript from fingerprinters

Implementing the above suggestions comes with consequences. For example, blocking JavaScript may disrupt websites from loading. Also, some of the browser extensions require some tech know-how to get them configured properly. Getting privacy reinforcements really depends on your personal tech comfort level and how passionate you are about protecting your privacy from online trackers. Either tolerate it or fortify against it.

Read the upcoming research paper to learn more about canvas fingerprinting from Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium. For a list of fingerprint tracking websites that are using the code click here.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via CC

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Sarah Hartshorn is a marketing, public relations and social media professional with Vuze. She blogs about content, torrents, social media and a number of other tech topics. Sarah has been involved with traditional and digital marketing since 1998.