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18 May 2010, 11:49

EFF: More than 80% of browsers have trackable signatures

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EFF Logo According to new research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) citizens' rights organisation, more than 80% of web browsers have unique configuration signatures which can be tracked. The organisation says its latest findings show that "an overwhelming majority of web browsers have unique signatures – creating identifiable 'fingerprints' that could be used to track you as you surf the Internet."

The findings are the result of an experiment launched by the EFF at the end of January this year called Panopticlick. When visiting the Panopticlick site, anonymised data, such as operating system, browser and browser plug-ins – information that web sites routinely access, was collected to establish how easy it is to identify individual visitors. The researchers found that 84% of the configuration combinations were unique, and thus identifiable. Additionally, they found that 94% of browsers with Adobe's Flash Player or Java plug-ins installed were unique and could be tracked.

EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley said that, "We took measures to keep participants in our experiment anonymous, but most sites don't do that," adding that, "In fact, several companies are already selling products that claim to use browser fingerprinting to help web sites identify users and their online activities. This experiment is an important reality check, showing just how powerful these tracking mechanisms are."

More details can be found in a white paper by Eckersley titled "How Unique Is Your Web Browser?"PDF.

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