What is Canvas Fingerprinting and how the companies use it to track you online

Why is Privacy Important?

Starting in early 2009, law enforcement in Derbyshire, East Midlands, England began uploading hundreds of files of collected glove prints into their criminal database. Glove Print Database to help Police in their fight against crime The Glove Mark Working Group in Derbyshire includes the Derbyshire Police Department, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, and Nottingham Trent University.

Offenders may prefer a specific type of glove depending on its perceived inherent benefits. Latex, nitrile, plastic, rubber, or vinyl gloves are worn because they are thin and cling to the wearer’s skin which in turn provides a level of dexterity to the wearer. Leather gloves possess pores that provides the wearer with an enhanced gripping ability. Leather gloves that are thin and tight-fitting provide both enhanced gripping and dexterity to the wearer.

Cookies & Tracking

Broadly speaking, browser fingerprinting is the detection of browser and operating system features that differ between users for the purpose of covertly identifying users and tracking them across the web. Although fingerprinting attacks will always be possible, it is worthwhile for us to make these attacks as slow / costly / difficult as possible. In 2010, Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a website where visitors can test their browser fingerprint. After collecting a sample of fingerprints, they measured at least 18.1 bits of entropy possible from browser fingerprinting, but that was before the advancements of canvas fingerprinting, which claims to add another 5.7 bits. However, the EU is expected to pass an updated ePrivacy Regulation in 2019 that may hone in on browser fingerprints and offer more direct definitions of user data privacy consent.

Many of the companies that pioneered browser fingerprinting saw this as a commercial opportunity and quickly expanded their services into the world of online tracking. Initially developed for security purposes, browser fingerprinting (also known as device fingerprinting) is a tracking technique capable of identifying individual users based on their browser and device settings. In order for websites to display correctly, your browser makes certain information available about your device, including your screen resolution, operating system, location, and language settings.

Browser Fingerprints: What they are, how they work, and what it means to you

A particularly detailed hand print of a leather glove became visible at the break-in point of one burglary. After a group of suspected burglars were brought in, the investigators received a warrant to search a vehicle that was linked the suspects. A brown leather batting glove was recovered that seemed to match the stitch detail on the glove prints taken from the break-in point. After scanning both the palm of the leather glove and the recovered glove print into a computer, the investigators used Adobe Photoshop software to compare the grain detail of the glove with the grain detail of the glove print.

It’s worth noting at this point that The Disconnect is not tracking its readers’ fingerprints and thus isn’t hashing these attributes to send that unique ID back to The Disconnect’s server. Instead, the code used to render the piece is only ever executed locally and never leaves your device. In addition, once it has been assembled, your digital fingerprint is persistently accurate. With recent developments in cross-browser fingerprinting, this technique is capable of successfully identifying users 99% of the time. Much like detectives piecing together clues from a crime scene, trackers can assemble this data into a recognizable “fingerprint” and then use this identifier to trace your activity across the web.

Panopticlick does not account for the fact that randomized fingerprint values are an effective way to prevent real-world fingerprinting. For instance, if Brave browser randomized canvas fingerprints on every page request, then it would be impossible for a site to track a specific Brave user across requests using canvas fingerprinting. However, because the randomized values would be unique, Panopticlick would report Brave as being highly canvas-fingerprintable.

The strings of text that make up the ridges of the algorithmically-generated fingerprint in the piece above are unique to you and are made up of the same data points used by commercial device fingerprinting. Typically, this array of attributes is compressed into a shorter ID number using a cryptographic “hash” function.

Test Your Browser’s Fingerprinting

Sites that relied on fingerprinting would also need to lay out a “legitimate interest argument for end users,” meaning that it would need to prove that its interest in tracking is not overriding the rights of users to data privacy. Using the HTML5 framework, websites are able to identify users (or a browser image) not by cookies, but the unique characteristics of a browser such as fonts, SVG widgets and WebGL—for starters. The technique is called browser fingerprinting or canvas fingerprinting. Websites harvest the browser data to produce a single, unique identifier to track users across multiple websites without any actual identifier persistence on the user’s machine. Websites bulk-collect a large set of data of visitors in order to later use it to match against browser fingerprints of known users.

Regardless what IP the web server can see, your browser settings, version and so forth, which generate unique browser fingerprinting data, can’t be blocked out by a VPN. The best way forward would be to run the Tor Browser in combination with a proper VPN.

The impressions left by the gloves seemed to possess indentations made by letters “M”, “e”, and “c” which would have been present on the surface of the gloves. Authorities were later able to match these unique impressions to Mechanix-brand gloves that were found at the residence of a suspect.

browser fingerprinting

Well, I have a nearly foolproof way of preventing streaks and fingerprints on end-user tablets. Not only will it save you the headache of hearing about this issue, it’ll lower the amount of time you have to spend cleaning screens when they’re returned. Canvas fingerprinting methods have been shown to produce 5.7 bits of entropy. Because the technique obtains information about the user’s GPU, the information entropy gained is “orthogonal” to the entropy of previous browser fingerprint techniques such as screen resolution and JavaScript capabilities.

  • Privacy experts say the practice is likely illegal under the newly-enacted GDPR regulation.
  • What will new General Data Protection Regulation laws mean for websites that use sneaky web trackers such as browser fingerprintingto profile visitors?
  • But they also say don’t expect the method of tracking users to disappear anytime soon, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a report issued Tuesday.

How does browser fingerprinting work?

A browser fingerprint is when, by visiting a web site, that site can generate an ID (or fingerprint) that is unique to your computer. The fingerprint can then be sent to their server, and you can be tracked.

After collecting glove prints, law enforcement can then match them to gloves that they have collected as evidence as well as glove prints retrieved from other crime scenes. Canvas fingerprinting is a type of “browser fingerprinting” techniques of tracking online users that allow websites to uniquely identify and track visitors using HTML5 canvas element instead of browser cookies or other similar means. It has only recently gone into effect, so we’ve yet to see how this might affect browser fingerprinting; however, the GDPR is a testament to the positive results that can come from consumer advocacy. Increased public concern for internet privacy has made precautionary methods more accessible and easier for users to implement, making traditional cookie-based tracking relatively untenable. This decline in cookie efficacy has led trackers to seek out more advanced ways of monitoring their users.

For this reason, when the pixel data of a rendered canvas image is sent through a cryptographic “hash” function, the resulting ID will be unique to that device and thus ideal for fingerprinting. Many criminals often wear gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, which makes the crime investigation more difficult. Although the gloves act as a protective covering for the wearer’s prints, the gloves themselves can leave prints that are just as unique as human fingerprints, thus betraying the wearer.

What will new General Data Protection Regulation laws mean for websites that use sneaky web trackers such as browser fingerprintingto profile visitors? Privacy experts say the practice is likely illegal under the newly-enacted GDPR regulation. But they also say don’t expect the method of tracking users to disappear anytime soon, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a report issued Tuesday.

Glove prints can be as simple as marks caused by seams or folds in fabric of a glove, or they can be as complex as marks left behind by the grain or texture of the fabric of a glove. When gloves are collected as evidence their prints can be taken and compared to glove prints that were taken at crime scenes or from evidence.

GDPR rules, which went into effect May 25, have left privacy experts scratching their heads about what the data privacy protection crackdown means for methods such as browser fingerprinting. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to wipe all of your fingerprints from the internet. But first, let’s start by exploring what, exactly, browser fingerprinting is. Browser fingerprinting is an incredibly accurate method of identifying unique browsers and tracking online activity. In 2012, law enforcement in Newton County, Indiana found unique glove prints at a home that was recently burglarized.

browser fingerprinting

The last two data points you’ll see animating on the cover are the “font-list” and a “canvas-hash.” The former is the list of fonts you have installed on your computer. Browsers need access to your fonts in order to render the texts on your screen, but because users often add to the list of fonts that come default on their devices, this can become a particularly effective way to identify you online. The HTML5 canvas is used by developers to draw 2D and 3D graphics in the browser using JavaScript. Though the same canvas code executed on different devices will render images that appear the same to our eyes, because of a list of differences among devices, the images will not be 100% identical at the pixel level.

The investigators were thus able to match the stitching and grain detail of both, thus incriminating the suspects. Lined leather gloves may leave a print that is as unique as a human fingerprint. When discovered by authorities, latent fingerprints may also be recovered from the inside of these gloves. Forensic scientists have even had success matching partial glove prints by using these databases and related software.

Now, not all of the information above is technically useful for uniquely identifying someone (this is intentional), but it could be. When you put it all together, then it’s easy to see that with browser fingerprinting, you are absolutely unique and trackable on the internet. Browser fingerprinting uses an extensive list of data points that, altogether, create your browser fingerprint. Browser fingerprinting is a serious threat to online privacy, and it goes a lot further than simply checking an IP address. That means that the data of your browser still allows the web server to identify you as a unique visitor regardless of whether you’re using a VPN, since your IP address is only one aspect of your browser fingerprinting profile.

These details essentially make up the ridges of your digital fingerprint. Offenders who wear gloves tend to use their hands and fingers very freely, and thus, because their gloves give them a false sense of protection, leave easily distinguishable glove prints on the surfaces they handle. Also, many times criminals would discard their gloves at crime scenes or hide them nearby. Today, latent fingerprints (first discovered on the surfaces of fabrics by investigators in the 1930s), as well as DNA and incriminating bacteria can also be recovered from the inside of these discarded gloves. Companies using browser fingerprinting would have to first reveal the fingerprinting before it is executed and secondly wait for users to give their informed consent.

For those who want to get specific about how they manage their browser’s privacy and security settings, Firefox is a great option. On top of GDPR, another data privacy protection law exists called the ePrivacy Directive (aka “the cookie clause”) which sets conditions on the use of device and browser identifiers. Interestingly, browser fingerprinting can be used to recreate a tracking cookie for a user after the user knowingly become aware of the cookie and deleted it.

By the 1950s, after over a half century of frustration due to the wearing of gloves by assailants, fingerprint experts began studies to determine how it may be feasible to detect and compare glove prints found at crime scenes. Since the advent of fingerprint detection, many criminals have resorted to the wearing of gloves during the commission of their crimes in order to avoid leaving their fingerprints as evidence. If you’re an admin in a company that deploys tablets to users, you know that they’re typically returned with grimy fingerprints and smudges — or you’ve grown accustomed to users complaining about the smeary screens.

Methods Used for (Fingerprint) Tracking

In 2002, Grand Rapids, Michigan law enforcement was investigating a string of burglaries in the area. No fingerprints were found but latent glove prints were found with the use of fingerprint powder.

How do I stop browser fingerprinting?

“Fingerprinting can be used to identify users, and the individual characteristics of the browser can be identifiable via this method On top of GDPR, another data privacy protection law exists called the ePrivacy Directive (aka “the cookie clause”) which sets conditions on the use of device and browser identifiers.

It might seem impractical to derive a unique fingerprint from a pool of innocuous settings and data, but considering the number of browsers and configurations available to a given user, there are a lot of possible combinations. In fact, the fingerprint of the laptop we wrote this piece on was completely unique among the 1.7 million fingerprints collected by Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Panopticlick tool. In earlier decades, investigators would dust for fingerprints only to find smears and smudges caused by gloves. Often in earlier decades these smudges were ignored because very little of their detail was retrievable. With the advent of latent fingerprint detection in the late 20th century, investigators started to collect, analyze, and record prints left at crime scenes that were created by the wearing of gloves.