Tracking browsers without cookies or IP addresses

Panopticlick a project sponsored by the EFF to research web browser tracking, without using cookies or the visitor’s IP address.  Here is the blog post on the EFF website.  More impressive, here is the math behind the algorithm that the EFF is using for this project.

From the EFF: “When you visit a website, you are allowing that site to access a lot of information about your computer’s configuration. Combined, this information can create a kind of fingerprint — a signature that could be used to identify you and your computer. But how effective would this kind of online tracking be?  EFF is running an experiment to find out.”

Now here’s some data, navigating to Panopticlick with Firefox in both Windows and Linux, my browser was unique out of over 22,000 other people.  That means that I can be uniquely identified just based on the information obtained by my browser when I navigate to a website (not including my IP address or browser cookies).  If I turn off javascript, or use a tool like NoScript, only 1 in 275 browsers have the same fingerprint is mine.  According to InternetWorldStats.Com, there are approximately 1.73 billion users on the internet as of Dec, 2009.  That means that there are approximately 6.29 million internet users in the world using the same user agent as I am when javascript is turned off.  In North America, there are roughly 253 million web users.  That means that are approximately 920,000 users that use the same user agent as I am when javascript is turned off.  Take that information and correlate with the user’s IP address, it appears to be a pretty unique way to identify an individual.

Now the obvious thing to state is that if a person changes computers or configurations change on the computer, the “fingerprint” would change (not making it a true fingerprint, similar to an IP address).  However, as the algorithm points out, if you can equate the information to another piece of identifiable information, the server would be able to identify you.

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