How Web Tracking Pieces Together Your Identity

These days, web browsers even give up information about the hardware your computer is running.
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How Web Tracking Pieces Together Your Identity

If you're worried about having your every move tracked online, there are ways to give your web browsing more privacy. But tracking and privacy is an arms race — and today, more of your computer's hardware is wired into the internet than ever before. 

Researchers have figured out how to identify a single user with more than 99 percent accuracy, thanks to telltale data points from a computer's graphics cardsaudio hardware and processors. It's precise enough to track users even if they switch to a different browser.

This, on top of the information your browser already gives up, like version numbers, screen resolution and time zone. On their own, these data points don't mean much. But with enough of them, someone tracking your browsing habits can figure out where you go online.

Tools like Privacy Badger or NoScript will cut down on the amount of information your browser gives out. But these days, web browsers are farming more and more of their work out to the computer's hardware. It's part of the price we pay to make glitzy websites and 3-D streaming possible. And if your hardware's talking to the browser, it can be tracked, too.

So what's the point of making this even easier? There aren't many benevolent reasons to track your activity online. Most of the time, someone's trying to sell you something

The researchers aren't saying what they think their methods should be used for — they seem to leave that up to whoever wants to try it out. But there might be at least one way this could improve security: The extra bits of hardware ID could act as multifactor authentication.