[LINK] Panopticlick

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Wed May 19 14:35:01 AEST 2010

A research project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: 

Is your browser configuration rare or unique? If so, web sites may be 
able to track you, even if you limit or disable cookies.


Panopticlick tests your browser to see how unique it is based on the 
information it will share with sites it visits. Click below and you will 
be given a uniqueness score, letting you see how easily identifiable you 
might be as you surf the web.

Only anonymous data will be collected by this site ..


Virtual fingerprinting exposes computer users 

LOUISA HEARN May 19, 2010 - 1:29PM

A US privacy group has discovered the existence of a virtual fingerprint 
that can be matched up with most computers to monitor the online habits 
of individuals.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, most web browsers carry 
a unique signature that can help websites gather information about online 
activities. Although this data does not directly identify you as a 
person, it can be used to build a very detailed internet profile.

". . . 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," said senior EFF technologist 
Peter Eckersley.

Data privacy has emerged as one of the key public concerns this year with 
market leading companies like Google and Facebook coming under fire for 
making too much information about their subscribers publicly accessible.

Google dismayed many of its Gmail users in February by making their email 
contacts public to other subscribers when it launched its new Buzz social 
platform. Facebook has also recently angered users and privacy advocates 
with changes to its privacy policy that allow third-party websites to 
incorporate members' profile data.

While the spotlight has been on those companies pushing to reveal more 
personal data in online platforms for their own marketing purposes, most 
people assume their web browsing activities remain private.

The EFF, however, said it had confirmed the existence of the virtual 
fingerprints by researching the activities of a number of volunteers who 
visited a dedicated website it developed.

To conduct the research, the website anonymously logged information that 
most websites would normally access when users visit, the EFF said.

After comparing a database collected from almost a million visitors, the 
EFF discovered that 84 per cent of the configuration combinations were 
unique and identifiable, and where browsers had Adobe Flash or Java plug-
ins installed they were 94 per cent identifiable.

Although the fingerprints can change regularly, simple algorithms were 
able keep track of the virtual identity.

Eckersley said browser fingerprints are different to the information-
gathering cookies activated when people visit many websites and could be 
used as a tracking mechanism against those who block cookies. He said 
they may also prove much harder for investigators to trace because they 
leave no evidence.

"Browser fingerprinting is a powerful technique, and fingerprints must be 
considered alongside cookies and IP addresses when we discuss web privacy 
and user trackability," Eckersley said.

Source: smh.com.au



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