Am I unique? A new browser fingerprinting tool

We have discussed browser fingerprinting in quite some depth before. Basically, it is a new(ish) form of internet tracking technology that tries to get around the fact that users are becoming more savvy about preventing websites and analytics companies identifying them through cookies (and other nastinesses), and then tracking them as they surf the internet so that they can build up a profile used to deliver ever more targeted advertising.

Browser fingerprinting works by gathering information about your browser (browser name, operating system, exact version number of the browser, what plugins and fonts you have installed, what supported data types (so-called MIME types), screen resolution, and system colors are used, etc., to build a ‘fingerprint’ of your browser that can be used to uniquely identify and track you.

One of the most pernicious aspects of this technique is that every measure you take to prevent being tracked by other means (e.g. blocking cookies and using plugins to prevent scripts from executing) actually makes your browser more unique! Even worse, there is very little you can do about it (although see our article for a discussion of what can be done)!

Introducing ‘Am I unique?’

Until now, the best tool for determining just how unique (and thus identifiable and trackable) your browser is, was the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)’s Panoptopclick. However, as even its own FAQ observes,

There are a lot of things that could potentially be added to the fingerprints that Panopticlick uses.

Panoptoclick is now rather old, and does not factor in current state-of-the-art browser fingerprinting techniques, such as canvas fingerprinting, so it is great to find new tool that uses up-to-date methods to identify how unique your browser is – called ‘Am I Unique?

amiunique 1

A more detailed breakdown is also available.

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‘Am I Unique?’ is a research project ‘maintained by a team of researchers, who investigates the software monocultures and software diversity on the web. The research team is financially supported by the DIVERSIFY European project and by a grant from the INSA-Rennes school.’

It uses completely open source code, but as a research project it does collect some anonymised data for research purposes (which, as the detailed privacy policy makes clear, will never be used to personally identify any user).

Unfortunately, knowing how unique your bowser is brings you no closer to preventing it’s fingerprint being exploited by advertisers…

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

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4 responses to “Am I unique? A new browser fingerprinting tool

  1. Hi Douglas,

    It is great. But there is an issue with the same phone models. When 2 guys buy 2 iphones, and surf the internet, the system will not recognize them, right?


    1. Hi Dee,

      2 brand new iPhones with everything running at factory default settings will be difficult to tell apart using fingerprinting methods. After a little real-word use, however, it will become increasingly easy to uniquely identify them.

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