Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Your Web Browser Just Told Everyone You Visited a Porn Site

Your identity as a dog may still be safe on the Internet. Everything else about you, though, is looking increasingly like an open book.

Latest data point: No matter what you do to stay anonymous, there’s a good chance your Web browser is betraying your identity, by leaving a unique fingerprint every time you visit a site.

A study conducted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that 84 percent of browsers leave a unique marker, via different combinations of settings and configurations. That percentage moves up to 94 percent if your browser uses plug-ins for Adobe’s (ADBE) Flash and Oracle’s (ORCL) Java.

What to do about it? There’s not a lot an individual user can do, the EFF says. But it says these kinds of broswers tend to be less identifiable than others:

  • Those with JavaScript disabled (possibly using a tool like NoScript)
  • Those that use TorButton, which successfully anticipated and defended against many fingerprinting measurements
  • Mobile devices like Google’s (GOOG) Android and Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone (the study was conducted in January and February, before the iPad hit the market)
  • Corporate desktop machines that are precise clones of one another

So if you’re the kind of person who only browses the Web via your smartphone, perhaps you’ll be okay. Otherwise, “the best solution for web users may be to insist that new privacy protections be built into the browsers themselves,” the EFF suggests.

Or, failing that, accept that absolute privacy–the kind where no one has any ability whatsoever to track your actions–may be unattainable on the Web. The real solution may not be a technical one, but a social one, whereby we come to a rough agreement about what we’re okay sharing and what we really, really need to keep to ourselves. That could take a while.


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo