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Digital fingerprinting is the process where a remote site or service gathers little bits of information about a user’s machine, and puts those pieces together to form a unique picture, or “fingerprint,” of the user’s device. The two main forms are browser fingerprinting, where this information is delivered through the browser when a user visits remote sites, and device fingerprinting, when the information is delivered through apps a user has installed on their device.
In most cases, fingerprinting is performed by a third-party rather than directly by the site someone is visiting or the app someone is using. As an individual uses their device, a specific third-party tracker may be loaded on multiple apps installed or sites visited. This allows that company to track an individual across their usage of multiple sites they visit or apps they have installed. These trackers are given unprecedented insight into the daily activities of the user, giving them information that is often specific enough to know what a user is doing at any moment and even where they are using their device. — EFF
“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. These details essentially make up the ridges of your digital fingerprint.” — Nick Briz