Most Browsers Leave Your History Behind, Study Says

Dennis Faas's picture

Research conducted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) suggests that more than 8 in 10 of web browsers have unique signatures, creating identifiable "fingerprints" that can be used to track almost any user that browses the Internet.

The results (PDF) were found after an experiment was conducted by the EFF with volunteers who visited Each participant who visited that site had the configuration and version information of their operating systems, browser, and browser plug-ins anonymously logged. (Source:

The information gathered by the website is data which most websites routinely record each time a site is visited. The logged information was compared to a database of configurations collected from almost a million other website visitors.

Study Suggests Configuring Browsers for Anonymity is Difficult

The EFF took measures to keep participants in their experiment anonymous. There are several companies that sell products claiming to use browser fingerprinting to help websites identify users and track their online activities.

The experiment conducted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation reveals just how powerful browser tracking mechanisms are. The EFF found some browsers were less likely to contain unique configurations, including browsers that block JavaScript. Some browser plug-ins may be configurable to limit the information shared with websites visited by the user.

Overall, the study suggest that reconfiguring a browser to make it less identifiable is very difficult.

Browser Fingerprinting a Powerful Technique

Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley of Electronic Frontier Foundation said that "browser fingerprinting is a powerful technique, and fingerprints must be considered alongside cookies and IP addresses when we discuss web privacy and user trackability."

Eckersley hopes that in the future browser developers will work to reduce these privacy risks. The EFF's findings will be formally presented at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS 2010) in Berlin this July in 2010.

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