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How unique is your browser’s digital fingerprint?

Bild: panthermedia.net / Tyler Olson

Participants wanted for online study

When we visit websites our browsers pass on a wide range of information that website providers and tracking services can use to recognise and track us. Computer scientists at FAU are currently looking for participants for an online study in which they aim to evaluate the effectiveness of browser protection measures. The study is being conducted by FAU’s Chair of Computer Science 1. It requires one minute of participants’ time per week for a period of four weeks. Those taking part in the study will be supporting research on this highly sensitive topic while being able to find out more about which data their browser is sharing online.

You can register for the study at https://browser-fingerprint.cs.fau.de.

Browser fingerprints: digital fingerprints left online

Just as human fingerprints allow people to be clearly identified, browsers can be recognised by websites on the basis of their digital fingerprints, known as browser fingerprints.

A browser fingerprint consists of a large number of browser characteristics that result from HTTP communication with web servers and can be specifically requested by websites, such as by using JavaScript. Common characteristics include the browser version, operating system and screen resolution, as well as the fonts and plugins that are installed. This combination of characteristics is usually so unique that the majority of browsers – and therefore the majority of users – can be recognised.

Increasing awareness of web tracking

Website visitors are tracked by companies through their browser fingerprint without them realising. Unlike when cookies are used, this form of tracking does not require any data to be saved on the user device in order to recognise visitors. Instead, the desired browser information that makes up the fingerprint is transferred when the page is viewed.

Researchers at the Chair of Computer Science 1 are conducting a study on the effectiveness of browser protection measures based on real data. Their aim is to record participants’ browser fingerprints in order to identify the types and distribution of individual browser characteristics.

While making a valuable contribution to this research, participants also have the opportunity to find out which personal browser information is being identified by the websites that they visit. They will be given an overview of all of their browser characteristics that have been recorded and an evaluation of whether or not their browser fingerprint is unique within the study.

Which information does your browser share?

You can register for the study using your e-mail address at https://browser-fingerprint.cs.fau.de. The study will last for four weeks. During this period, participants will be sent an e-mail once a week containing a new link. Clicking on the link allows the browser fingerprint to be recorded.

After the initial four weeks, all participants will have the opportunity to continue taking part in the study. It is possible to withdraw from the study at any time by visiting the withdrawal link included in each e-mail. Participants’ e-mail addresses will be deleted from the database if they withdraw from the study and all data that has been recorded will be anonymised.

Further information:

Zinaida Benenson
Phone: +49 9131 8569908
cs1-browser-fingerprint@fau.de
https://browser-fingerprint.cs.fau.de

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