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A New Form of Online Tracking: Canvas Fingerprinting 194

New submitter bnortman (922608) was the first to write in with word of "a new research paper discussing a new form of user fingerprinting and tracking for the web using the HTML 5 <canvas> ." globaljustin adds more from an article at Pro Publica: Canvas fingerprinting works by instructing the visitor's Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user's device a number that uniquely identifies it. ... The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code ... on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use the AddThis social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. ... Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace cookies ...
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A New Form of Online Tracking: Canvas Fingerprinting

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  • Re:Identical devices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @09:05AM (#47507039)

    I can see the privacy implications this has, but how in the world would such a method successfully discern between 2 identical devices?

    I work with marketing software on and off. There are thousands of data points collected when you visit a site that cares enough to ID you. This would be just one. If this ID narrows the device down to 10 or so... and they also have date stamps, general location data based on your IP, browser type, etc? They can ID you specifically, pretty easily. I've not seen this particular method come up myself... in fact, most of the time the ways the marketing software ID's you is irrelevant to the site owner. They just buy the software and install it. Done. The general doesn't care that there's 1 new landmine in his arsenal when he's already blanketed the field with thousands of them.

    Also, you need to understand that goal here... they don't care who you are. They just want to know that you are visitor 52467, and all the other times you were here you looked at products X, P and Q so they can display more information on those products. They also salt the site with "Free" offers that all you need to claim them is to input your contact information. Once you do that they link that contact information to your browsing history and shoot it over to a salesman and/or send you a personally designed advertisement to your email.

    This may all sound dumb and horribly invasive... but it's amazingly successful. There is absolutely no way these companies would give it up voluntarily. Many of them wouldn't be in business without that sort of data... I'm not even sure you'd like it if it were gone. Getting ads is annoying, getting ads for African American hair styling products when you're a redhead is infuriating. Targeted ads are a good thing, it's the completely unaddressed side affects of that data collection that's a problem.

    What needs to happen is laws governing how long the data can be kept need to be passed. As of now, it's kept forever as far as I know... because... well, why not? And who the data is shared with needs to be regulated. The intercooperation of these companies is pretty scary. Amazon should not know what I'm searching for on WebMD, and the fact of the matter is, as of now, pretty much every major site you visit is sharing data with every other site you visit for mutual profit. This likely includes government websites. I've seen the marketing companies brag about their government contracts so that's a tad scary. Lastly, pretty much all regulation is not-so-cleverly avoided by simply changing the tech. The regulation needs to be broad and easy to understand. As of now they do things like "Well, that's not a person, that's a device!" or "Is that really data?" etc... Bill Clinton word style play shouldn't absolve you of negligence.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor