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    ClickZ: Device Fingerprinting Raises Privacy Fears

    A few weeks ago, ClickZ wrote about the issue of device “fingerprinting” (cataloging computers, mobile devices — including smartphones — and TV boxes in order to target behavioral advertising to the specific computer or cellphone users). Now, ClickZ follows up with a story about privacy concerns with such identification technology.

    Privacy advocates have expressed concern about device fingerprinting, an emerging technology that allows advertisers to uniquely and persistently identify connected devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets.

    When sending or receiving data, connected devices transmit pieces of information about their properties and settings, which can be collected and pieced together to form a unique, persistent “fingerprint” for that specific device.

    Once a device has been assigned a fingerprint, advertisers can use that ID to track its behavior as it moves across the web, providing similar functionality to a cookie. The strength of a fingerprint, however, is that it tracks the device itself rather than the cookie placed on it, meaning it cannot be deleted or lost, and can – in theory – remain consistent for the life of a device. […]

    [Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation,] said the persistence of fingerprints could lead to more detailed behavioral profiles being tied to a device over time. “If it becomes standard practice for sites to use fingerprints, a universal record of everything you look at could be created. It’s really important to prevent that from happening.”

    But the providers of fingerprint technology – most prominently BlueCava and Ringleader Digital – claim it improves on cookies in one crucial area: keeping users opted out. Cookie-based opt-outs are fundamentally flawed because when a user deletes her cookies or switches to another browser, she is effectively opted back in to ad tracking.

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