The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great metaphor to understand the difference between a cookie and browsing fingerprinting. A cookie is like putting a tracker on your car. The tracker’s owner can see everywhere you go until you remove it.
In contrast, browser fingerprinting is like taking a picture of the car. We know what model, year, license plate number, and state it’s registered.
With browser fingerprinting, a website records your operating system version, browser type and version, screen dimensions, time zone, IP address, and more. When you take into account all of these different characteristics, it can be a relatively small pool of users whose browsing history shares all these traits.
Some people mistakenly think that just by changing their IP address with a VPN, it will make them invisible. This is good but not enough, and actually if poorly executed, it could make you stick out to websites even more. If the clock on your local computer is dramatically different than your chosen VPN IP, this makes you stick out as being unique. For example, your local computer’s clock says you’re in the United Kingdom, but your VPN tells a website your IP address is in Japan.
This uniqueness can be tracked across every website you visit and makes it really easy to monitor your traffic. Often different websites will share data with the same large advertising firms (e.g., Google or Facebook) or database tracking brokers such as Oracle.
To make matters even worse, you might sign in to a social media account, bank, or some type of service attached to your real identity. Now all of these Big Tech companies and large database brokers know “okay he’s the London Clock with a Tokyo IP, Firefox, 1280 screen dimension, and Windows 11”. How many people share these exact traffic patterns with your identifying characteristics?
Once a computer fingerprint is clearly established as you, the goal of these companies is to fingerprint your phone too, so they can track you across devices. And a phone is much harder to hide a fingerprint on. You aren’t likely to change your screen dimensions on a phone.
How To Defeat Browser Fingerprinting
There are a few different methods to trick websites and stop big tech companies from browser fingerprinting you. We’ll group these into:
1) Using Browsers with Blocking Features
2) Using Different Browsers
3) Using Virtual Machines
5) Using untracked mirror websites that serve content from the tracking sites
In our next article of this series, we’ll break down each of these techniques further for you to learn how to use them. Also you can privately and anonymously speak with a member of Simplified Privacy with your questions and get customized advice based on your goals. We can use end-to-end encrypted tools which are easy to download. We use Signal or Session, and you can pay in cryptocurrency. And if you really want to learn how to become a ghost, subscribe for free to our new content by email, by Session messenger, RSS feed, or Nostr.