Digital Detectives Can Now ID Device Fingerprinting


Spurred on by the explosion of the cookie-less mobile channel and a European Union directive, marketers are increasingly moving to a technology known as device fingerprinting to track consumers across devices and serve them relevant ads based on their complete online activity. But therein lies a danger: Because fingerprinting allows entities—some of them unsavory—to collect device characteristics without owner consent, privacy protections could be violated in the collecting.

As a result, TRUSTe has introduced a device-fingerprinting-detection capability as part of its Website Monitoring Service used by companies to monitor and protect consumer data collected on their sites. Kris Vann, an attorney and senior product marketing manager at TRUSTe, says the new capability is influenced by concern over what marketers fear will be the widening net of the EU Cookie Directive that demands opt-in consent from consumers for cookie collection.

“Last November, the [European Commission’s Article 29 Data Protection Working Party] made it clear that the intent was to have the Cookie Directive extend beyond just cookies to device fingerprinting. We knew it was coming. But they’ve made it very clear in writing,” Vann says.

In its mission statement for reform of the legal framework of data protection, the EC states that it must be modernized “to meet the challenges resulting from globalization and the use of new technologies,” and European authorities confirmed last November that it meant all methods of tracking, including device fingerprinting.

By tracking characteristics of a browser’s environment like the browser version, screen dimensions, fonts, and even IP addresses, device fingerprinting is able to single out individual devices for targeting. TRUSTe detects fingerprinting by identifying tell-tale Java script on Web pages.

“Desktop cookies are still the standard, but as people branch out to using multiple devices, companies are able to collect hundreds of elements pertaining to devices, making fingerprinting a widely used technique,” says TRUSTe product manager Helen Huang. “With this new tool, we can see all the tracking happening on a company’s site and give them notice.”

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