Thursday, December 2, 2010

Race Is On to 'Fingerprint' Phones, PCs

WTKARMSDavid Norris wants to collect the digital equivalent of fingerprints from every computer, cellphone and TV set-top box in the world.

He's off to a good start. So far, Mr. Norris's start-up company, BlueCava Inc., has identified 200 million devices. By the end of next year, BlueCava says it expects to have cataloged one billion of the world's estimated 10 billion devices.

Advertisers no longer want to just buy ads. They want to buy access to specific people. So, Mr. Norris is building a "credit bureau for devices" in which every computer or cellphone will have a "reputation" based on its user's online behavior, shopping habits and demographics. He plans to sell this information to advertisers willing to pay top dollar for granular data about people's interests and activities.

Device fingerprinting is a powerful emerging tool in this trade. It's "the next generation of online advertising," Mr. Norris says.

It might seem that one computer is pretty much like any other. Far from it: Each has a different clock setting, different fonts, different software and many other characteristics that make it unique. Every time a typical computer goes online, it broadcasts hundreds of such details as a calling card to other computers it communicates with. Tracking companies can use this data to uniquely identify computers, cellphones and other devices, and then build profiles of the people who use them. ...

via Race Is On to 'Fingerprint' Phones, PCs -

Forget cookies--even the ultrasneaky, Flash-based "super cookies." A new type of tracking may identify you far more accurately than any cookie--and you may never know it was there.

The method pulls together innocuous data about your browser, such as plug-ins, system fonts, and your operating system. Alone, they don't identify you. Together, they're a digital fingerprint.

It's like describing a person. Just saying "brown hair" won't identify anyone. But add in "5 feet, 10 inches tall," "chipped right front tooth," "size 12 shoes," and so on, and soon you have enough information to pull someone out of a crowd, even without their name, Social Security number, or any other of the usual identifiers.

Test your browser for unique identifiers without the risk: The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group, has set up an interesting online experiment at Panopticlick gathers little de­­tails about your browser and computer, mostly using Javascript. In my case, the information it gathered about my browser was enough to uniquely identify my surfing software out of more than 650,000 visitors.

via PC World

So, your browser is reporting: fonts you have installed, in what order they were installed, your clock setting down to the millisecond, your browser plug-ins, type of web browser, MAC address ... you can mess with most of this stuff with privacy software and running plane jane configurations.

Firefox test: No privacy browsing: "only one in 641,436 browsers have the same fingerprint as yours."

Firefox's Privacy browsing: ...

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