Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ever wonder how unusual your Web-browsing signature is?

Well, wonder no more. Now, you can find out, or, to be precise, get a pretty darn good idea courtesy of a nifty tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

EFF, if you don't know the group, is a civil liberties organization focusing on the online world. I was a member for multiple years, let my membership lapse purely from oversight, and then rejoined again a couple of years ago (or so). Though I've never found a group whose every action I supported, I come pretty close with EFF.

Most of us know that we leave behind traces of our systems as we browse the Web. Most of us accept those traces as an acceptable risk, and the more paranoid among us browse with their cookies disabled, as if that will stop Web sites from identifying them.

It's not that simple.

Browsers are able to collect a lot of data about your computer's configuration, and that data can help identify you. To get a sense of just how much data a browser collects and how unusual the resulting electronic identification is, EFF is running an experiment at its Panopticlick site. They claim they'll collect your data anonymously and compare it to a database of millions of other configurations, and I believe they're telling the truth. In other words, I believe this test is safe to take--though I caution that I base this belief solely on my trust in EFF.

To try it on your browser, click here, then click the big red TEST ME button.

I tried it on one system with cookies enabled. It declared that my browser was unique--in the correct sense of that word--among the over 562,000 they'd tested so far.

I don't like that fact, but I've never labored under the illusion that my online activities couldn't be tracked if someone really wanted to bother.

If you are browsing with that belief, or if you're just curious, let this site test your system, then decide if you want to make any changes to your browsing habits.


Todd said...

Thanks for adding to my paranoia. I am currently running eraser while looking for a good encryption program - even though I have nothing really of value on my machine.

And the web-browsing signature - wow, that's really eye opening.

Mark said...

Always glad to help on that front.

Todd said...

I want to warn people to be VERY careful with Eraser.

It gave me an error 80% way through, and then I had to spend 30 minutes of research to figure out where my lost disk space was (because I was getting memory error problems).

After erasing the file, I went to work on excel, and it had somehow corrupted my excel program. Luckily I had the disk and ran the 'repair' option. That seemed to fix everything.

Now back to your regular programing of food and allergy shots...

Mark said...

Thanks for the warning, Todd.

Anonymous said...

running firefox with noscript, and setting it to allow cookies for that session rather than permanently, go a long way towards reducing the uniqueness of your fingerprint...

- lisa

Mark said...

Definitely. Good tip, Lisa.


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