Digital fingerprinting is quickly making Internet browser cookies obsolete.
If you’re not familiar with Internet cookies, here’s a quick summary. All websites you visit are designed to put a small bit of data on your computer which allows that site to A) remember your preferences to improve your experience on subsequent visits, and B) track other sites you visit on the Internet in order to learn more about your habits, interests, etc. Of course the latter unnerves some users and therefore, “Do Not Track” legislation has become a hot topic, periodically resurfacing in the wake of newsworthy breaches of confidence. Internet browsers have already voluntarily built in Do Not Track protocols which allow users to reject cookies even without any former legal mandate to do so.
Back when Do Not Track legislation was first being debated, I predicted that savvy Internet marketers would simply find some other way to track unique users, and now they have. There are actually several different methods being employed, but overall it’s simply dubbed “Digital Fingerprinting.” Just like no two fingerprints are identical, no two Internet users have exactly the same device configuration. Differences in the hardware, software and application preferences make each user’s device uniquely identifiable, even if no personal information is present. In this way, websites can still anonymously gather the data they desire to improve their marketing efforts while staying ahead of the laws relating to one specific tracking technique, namely cookies; technology simply advances much faster than legislation does.
Digital Fingerprinting is much more difficult for users to avoid because there isn’t an easy way to subvert it. Even Microsoft’s own updater has long utilized the type of technology that can “scan” your computer and determine what applications you have and what updates you need. From that point it’s simply a matter of building a database of all the devices and configurations, and then the electronic “fingerprint” of each one can be tracked. Application updates, installing new apps or even uninstalling apps actually makes you more traceable, not less. Unless you’re prepared to take extreme measures, including disabling all Flash and Java plugins – which will effectively limit your Internet experience to text-only websites – you can be identified and tracked on the Internet, whether you like it or not.
One of the primary companies in this new era of not-so-anonymous tracking is called TapAd. They’ve developed technology that, using the digital fingerprinting method, can track your Internet movements, your preferences, your usage across multiple devices, and even begin to “guess” your non-volunteered information such as age range, gender, location of residence and even approximate income. The start-up has been so successful that even the former CEO of competing Internet marketing giant DoubleClick has invested in the juggernaut venture, which has the potential to redefine online marketing. It’s another case where technology surges ahead of legal protections intended to restrain it from abuses. TapAd was being rolled out while Congress was still debating the fate of cookies with its proposed Do Not Track legislation. Yet, most of the companies which subscribe to TapAd’s service don’t want to talk about it or even be identified on record for fear of a consumer backlash because it bears too much semblance to the NSA data-mining scandal.
is the Business Support Manager for Helios, LLC. He is chiefly responsible for Helios’ media and public communication as well as overseeing any training initiatives. Contact Jeremy at email@example.com.
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