Do you think your canvas fingerprint blocker made you anonymous? Think again.
As many understand information, canvas fingerprinting is the most recent development to track the web. In the past, the easiest way to prevent web tracking was to block out the monitoring method completely. For example, you disable cookies in your browser to prevent cookie tracking.
But things are not so cut-and-dry when coming to canvas fingerprinting. You can, believe it or not, use a canvas fingerprint blocker that can make you more trackable than if you weren’t using one. That statement defies common sense, but it’s true.
Why is it so? First, we need to explore canvas fingerprinting altogether and how it works. Then we continuously explore canvas fingerprint blockers and why they don’t work. We recommend the most modern and usable method to stop canvas fingerprint tracking.
If you are a person who values your privacy and currently using a canvas fingerprint blocker, this is the latest must-know information.
What is fingerprinting?
Fingerprinting is, in essence, taking your browser’s attributes and then using them to create a tracking profile for you (technically, your computer).
As an example, imagine we start with a group of 100,000 visitors.
Of that, 60% of visitors use Chrome, and 40% of the 100,000 use Firefox. Our audience is split into two groups now.
+ Within these groups, each visitor will be using a different version of their respective browser. That’s called another fingerprint. If we exist in an alternate universe with only three versions of Firefox, our 40% group is now split into three groups of 13.3% each.
+ Fingerprints continue to build on one another until visitors are grouped into particular groups. The 100,000 visitors may be categorized into thousands of smaller categories. Website owners can relatively easily track you when you are in a group.
But fingerprinting has a common problem. That it’s not drilled down enough for websites with big data. There are only a certain number of potential fingerprints. The categorized groups are usually too big to use and helpful with lots of traffic. Although there are only a certain number of good fingerprints, the organized groups are generally still too big to use with lots of traffic.
That’s when coming into play of canvas fingerprinting.
As fingerprinting, but infinitely more powerful
Canvas fingerprinting allows the browser to “draw” an image onto a web page. It relies on the Canvas HTML5 element.
Every computer will create a different unique image based on its operating system attributes and particular browser. For example, other operating systems will use various sub-pixel rendering engines. Or different browsers will use different image processing engines… Et cetera, et cetera.
Many factors influence browser and operating system levels when generating a canvas image. They all work together to create a specific image and put you into a small group. When the image you generate is mixed with ordinary fingerprint tracking, canvas fingerprinting can put you into a similar smaller group. Sometimes, canvas fingerprinting can divide groups so effectively that each “group” is an individual. That’s the ultimate goal.
And that’s why some users are so keen to prevent canvas fingerprinting from taking place. If you value anonymity, canvas fingerprinting doesn’t just make you trackable as a cookie does. Canvas fingerprinting can recognize you as you.
But stopping it is more challenging than meets the eye.
Canvas fingerprint blocking tactics – and why they don’t work
There are two basic ways to block canvas fingerprinting. Each one is evenly ineffective.
Preventing canvas fingerprinting completely
Your first instinct is probably to take a browser extension that prevents the canvas image from loading. If it doesn’t load, you can’t be tracked – right?
Wrong. Because preventing the canvas image from loading is an identifier in itself. Although the canvas fingerprint will not be sent, the fact that you will not load the canvas image, too. So, you will be sorted into a tiny group of tech-savvy users who also block fingerprints. From there, your natural fingerprints will sometimes be enough to identify you completely.
To dream up how this works, imagine you are standing in a crowd. Not caring about canvas fingerprinting is like you’re just standing there smiling. Having a canvas fingerprint blocker is like standing there with a mask. No one is sure who you are, but you’re the only one wearing a mask so that you can be identified like that. Although a few other people are wearing masks, you all are simply grouped as “the people wearing masks.”
They would be effective if everyone used canvas fingerprint blockers (or wore masks, as in our example). But as it stands, almost no one uses canvas fingerprint blockers. Heck, it’s estimated that only 5% to 10% of web users utilize an ad blocker. The percentage of canvas fingerprint blockers must be a small fraction, and that’s not a big enough group to blend into – far from it.
Submitting random canvas fingerprints
Using different fingerprints for every request doesn’t work for the same reason as submitting no fingerprint. Any regular visitor will not change their fingerprint during a session. So, if you change your fingerprint during a session, that behavior is unusual, and it’s enough to categorize you into an irregular group.
In our example, submitting a random canvas fingerprint is like changing the outfit you wear every 10 seconds. On the first request, you look familiar. But if you change your business 10 seconds later on the second request, even though you’re not wearing a mask, you still make yourself stand out. Ordinary people don’t change their outfits throughout the day or use different canvas fingerprint identities in a single session.
The only usable solution that be living
Most web users don’t want or need to avoid the trouble of blocking canvas fingerprinting technology. If you are an experienced web user who values your privacy above all, there is a way.
- Make the canvas fingerprinting function available on the websites you visit. (So it’s not clear you are wearing a mask.)
- Use a canvas identity with fabric. (So it’s not clear you are trying to avoid detection.)
- Switch up the identity when necessary. (To erase your tracks.)
You are still being tracked – that’s unavoidable. But you control the tracking. When you change your fingerprint, you destroy any evidence of your browsing history on the other fingerprint. You wipe the slate clean. And because you used the old fingerprint consistently, you have not been sorted into an irregular group and tracked like that. No one can recognize that you wiped the slate clean in the first place.
Whew! We hope you understand with us through that lengthy explanation. Canvas fingerprinting is rising, and “blockers” or “random submitters” will not keep you safe; they will make you more easily trackable. It’s the reason why.