Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

Browser Fingerprinting

Browser Fingerprinting & GDPR Compliance: What Businesses Need to Know Before Deploying this Analytics Practice

Web analytics has been helping businesses with methods to track and understand user behaviour for around a decade now. Web cookies, geolocation, heat maps, etc., are some techs and markers used for the cause. All have their pros and cons for both web publishers and users.

For users, because they get a custom web experience served to them on a platter.

One such method that has gained prominence is browser fingerprinting. Unlike traditional cookie-based tracking, which has faced increasing scrutiny and restrictions, fingerprinting offers a way to identify users based on the unique configurations of their browsers and devices.

This technique can be incredibly precise, providing valuable insights for businesses looking to optimise their digital strategies.

However, with the rise of stringent privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the use of browser fingerprinting has sparked significant controversy.

The GDPR aims to protect the privacy and personal data of individuals within the European Union, placing strict requirements on how businesses collect and process user data.

This has led to a growing tension between the need for robust analytics and the imperative to respect user privacy as well as between browser fingerprinting and GDPR.

In this article, we will explore the intricacies of browser fingerprinting, its implications under the GDPR, and how businesses can navigate these challenges while maintaining compliance.

We’ll also have a look at MicroAnalytics, our privacy-focused web analytics platform designed to offer a solution that respects user privacy and complies with regulatory standards.

Let’s begin.

Table of Contents hide

What is Browser Fingerprinting?

Browser fingerprinting is a sophisticated tracking method often used for web analytics that identifies and profiles users based on the unique characteristics of their web browsers and devices.

Unlike cookies, which are stored on a user’s device and can be easily deleted or blocked, fingerprinting relies on gathering a combination of data points to create a unique “fingerprint” for each user.

How Browser Fingerprinting Works: Execution and Data Collection

Browser fingerprinting gathers various details from a user’s device to create a unique profile. As it’s an advanced web practice achieved using tools such as tech and tools like JScript, Node.js, etc., let’s break it down to layman’s level.

Execution by Web Developers/Publishers

1. Adding a Tool to the Website

What Happens: The web developers add a special tool (a script or a library) to the website. Think of this tool as a detective that quietly collects information about visitors.

How It’s Done: They include a piece of code (a script) in the website’s files. This code runs every time someone visits the site.

2. Collecting Information

What Happens: When you visit the website, the tool starts collecting information about your device and browser.

Examples of Information Collected: Browser types, screen size, installed fonts, graphics capabilities, etc.

3. Creating a Unique Identifier

What Happens: The tool combines all the collected information to create a unique “fingerprint” for your device.

Analogy: Think of it like a fingerprint for your device, made up of all the little details that make your device unique.

4. Sending the Fingerprint to the Server

What Happens: This unique fingerprint is sent to the website’s server, where it’s stored.

Why It’s Done: This helps the website recognize you if you visit again, even if you’ve cleared your cookies or are using incognito mode.

Now that we “somewhat” understand how browser fingerprinting is achieved by website and web app owners, let’s have a detailed look at the types of information it collects.

1. Browser Settings

A. Browser Type and Version
Information about whether you’re using Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc., and the specific version of the browser.

B. Installed Plugins
Details about browser extensions and plugins, such as Adobe Flash or Java.

C. Preferred Languages
The languages set in your browser (can indicate regional preferences).

2. Device Information

A. Operating System
Whether you’re using Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, or iOS.

B. Screen Resolution
The size and resolution of your screen (can vary widely between devices).

C. Hardware Configurations
Details like the type of CPU, GPU, and other hardware components.

3. IP Address

A. Location Data
While the IP address alone isn’t unique, it helps provide location information and can narrow down the fingerprint to a specific region or city.

4. Other Data Points

A. Time Zone Settings
The time zone your device is set to (can indicate your geographic region).

B. Installed Fonts
The specific fonts installed on your device (can vary between systems).

C. Behavioural Data
Patterns like how you type or move your mouse (can add another layer of uniqueness).

What are the Different Types of Browser Fingerprinting Techniques Used Today?

There are several methods being used to effectively create a fingerprint for a website visitor. Let’s dive into each of these techniques in detail.

1. Canvas Fingerprinting

Canvas fingerprinting uses the HTML5 canvas element to identify variances in a user’s GPU, graphics drivers, or graphics card.

How It Works

A script draws an image or text on the canvas. The browser renders this image, capturing how it’s displayed.

Unique Fingerprint

Each device renders the image slightly differently due to differences in hardware and drivers. These variations are used to compute a hash, serving as the ‘canvas fingerprint.


This process happens in the background, so users are generally unaware it’s occurring.


It’s accurate and not too processing-intensive, making it widely used.

2. WebGL Fingerprinting

WebGL fingerprinting is a more advanced subset that leverages Web Graphics Library (WebGL) technology to render complex 3D graphics.

How It Works

A script instructs the browser to generate a 3D graphic off-screen. The rendered image is analysed for unique characteristics.

Unique Fingerprint

Differences in how graphics are processed and rendered—due to variations in GPUs, drivers, and device hardware—create unique identifiers.


Two devices with different GPUs or different driver versions for the same GPU will produce slightly different outputs, allowing WebGL to generate a unique identifier.

3. Media Device Fingerprinting

Media device fingerprinting involves detecting all connected media devices and their IDs on a user’s device.

How It Works

This includes internal media components like video and audio cards and connected devices like headphones.

Usage Limitations

It requires user permission to access the microphone and camera, making it less commonly used.


Useful for services needing webcam or microphone access, such as video chat services.

4. TLS Fingerprinting

Transport Layer Security (TLS) fingerprinting examines how a client and server perform the TLS handshake, which secures communication over the web.

How It Works

The handshake involves a process where the client and server agree on a set of cryptographic algorithms.

Unique Fingerprint

By analysing the specific combination of algorithms and parameters used, a unique fingerprint of the devices or software involved can be generated.

Security Enhancement

This technique helps in identifying and ensuring the security of communications.

5. Font Fingerprinting

Font fingerprinting identifies users based on the unique set of fonts installed on their device.

How It Works

Scripts assess which fonts are accessible on a visitor’s computer.

Unique Fingerprint

The combination of system-default and personally installed fonts creates a unique profile.


Useful for web analytics and personalised content delivery without relying on cookies.

6. Mobile Device Fingerprinting

Mobile device fingerprinting identifies individual devices based on hardware and software attributes.

How It Works

Data points like the device’s OS, browser type, screen resolution, etc., are collected to create a unique profile.

Unique Fingerprint

This profile helps recognize returning devices and enhance user experience.


Useful for fraud detection and understanding user engagement.

7. Audio Fingerprinting

Audio fingerprinting analyzes the unique variations in how a device’s software and hardware produce and handle audio content.

How It Works

When a sound is played, factors like browser version and CPU architecture affect the sound waves.

Unique Fingerprint

These variations are captured and analysed to create an audio fingerprint.


Valuable for digital rights management, content distribution, and personalised audio content delivery.

These fingerprinting techniques collectively provide powerful tools for tracking and identifying users based on their unique device characteristics and behaviours. But while they offer significant benefits for analytics, personalization, and security, they also raise important privacy concerns.

Security Concerns Related to Browser Fingerprinting

Browser fingerprinting, while a powerful tool for tracking and identifying users online, comes with significant security and privacy concerns. Understanding these concerns is crucial for both users and developers to balance the benefits of fingerprinting with the need to protect personal data.

1. Invisibility and Lack of User Awareness

One of the primary security concerns is the invisible nature of browser fingerprinting. Unlike cookies, which users can see and manage, fingerprinting operates silently in the background.

Most users are unaware that they are being tracked, and even tech-savvy individuals may find it challenging to detect and prevent fingerprinting. This lack of transparency can lead to unintentional data collection and tracking.

2. Difficulty in Opting Out

Unlike traditional tracking methods, such as cookies, where users can delete or block them, opting out of browser fingerprinting is far more complicated.

Many fingerprinting techniques rely on inherent browser and device functionalities that cannot be easily disabled without significantly impacting the user experience. This makes it difficult for users to control or prevent fingerprinting.

3. Potential for Data Misuse

The detailed profiles created through browser fingerprinting can be misused if they fall into the wrong hands. Personal data, browsing habits, and device-specific information can be exploited for malicious purposes, such as targeted attacks, identity theft, and fraud.
The aggregation of such data across different sites and services amplifies these risks.

4. Enhanced Tracking Capabilities

Browser fingerprinting enables persistent tracking across different websites and sessions, even if users delete their cookies or use private browsing modes.

This persistent tracking capability can lead to extensive profiling of individuals over time, raising significant privacy concerns. Users may feel their privacy is violated as they are continuously monitored without explicit consent.

5. Vulnerability to Cross-Site Tracking

Fingerprinting allows for cross-site tracking, where user activities are tracked across multiple websites. This can lead to the creation of comprehensive profiles, which are valuable for advertisers but invasive for users.

Cross-site tracking can reveal sensitive information about a user’s behaviour, interests, and preferences, posing a significant privacy risk.

6. Potential for Discrimination

Detailed user profiles created through fingerprinting can lead to discriminatory practices. For instance, businesses may use this information to deliver personalised pricing, where different users see different prices for the same product based on their perceived ability to pay.

Similarly, targeted ads and content can reinforce existing biases and stereotypes, leading to a less equitable online experience.

7. Impact on User Trust

As awareness of fingerprinting grows, it can erode user trust in websites and online services. Users who feel their privacy is being invaded may be less likely to engage with certain sites or may take measures to anonymize their browsing, such as using VPNs or privacy-focused browsers.

This can impact the relationship between users and service providers, potentially leading to reduced user engagement and loyalty.

8. Legal and Regulatory Implications

With the increasing focus on data privacy, browser fingerprinting raises several legal and regulatory concerns. Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) emphasise the need for transparency and user consent in data collection practices.

Fingerprinting techniques that operate without user knowledge or consent may run afoul of these regulations, leading to legal challenges and penalties for businesses.

9. Security Risks from Data Breaches

The data collected through browser fingerprinting is often stored in databases that can become targets for cyberattacks. A data breach involving fingerprinting data can expose detailed user profiles, leading to severe privacy violations and potential financial losses for the affected individuals.

Why is Browser Fingerprinting Difficult to Control?

Browser fingerprinting poses a significant challenge in terms of user control and privacy management. This difficulty stems from its reliance on inherent properties of the user’s device and browser, making it a robust tool for persistent tracking but also raising profound privacy concerns.

Let’s delve into the technical and detailed reasons why controlling browser fingerprinting is so challenging.

1. Inherent Device and Browser Properties

Browser fingerprinting collects a vast array of data points that are integral to the functionality of the user’s device and browser. This is something that we have already discussed. These properties are essential for the operation of the device and browser and are not easily altered without affecting usability and performance.

2. Low Visibility and User Awareness

Unlike cookies, which are stored as files on the user’s device and can be managed through browser settings or extensions, fingerprinting data is collected in a manner that is largely invisible to the user.
This data is gathered silently in the background through scripts that run when the user visits a website. Users typically have no direct access to or control over this data, making it difficult to detect and manage.

3. Persistent Tracking Across Sessions

Fingerprinting techniques can generate a unique and persistent identifier based on the combination of data points collected from the device. This identifier remains consistent across different browsing sessions and websites, even if the user clears cookies or uses private browsing modes.

The persistence of this identifier makes it a powerful tracking tool that is hard to evade.

4. Diverse and Complex Data Points

Browser fingerprinting leverages a wide variety of data points to create a unique profile using multiple techniques. Some of these include canvas fingerprinting, WebGL fingerprinting, audio fingerprinting, font fingerprinting, etc.

5. Lack of Standardised Controls

While users can manage cookies through built-in browser settings and third-party extensions, there are no standardised tools or settings for managing fingerprinting.

Existing privacy-focused tools, such as privacy browsers and extensions, offer some level of protection, but they are not foolproof and can be cumbersome to use.

6. Evolving Techniques

Browser fingerprinting techniques are continuously evolving to counteract measures that users might take to protect their privacy. For example:

A. Evercookies: Persistent cookies that store data in multiple locations on the user’s device, making them harder to delete.

B. Hybrid Fingerprinting: Combining multiple fingerprinting techniques to create a more resilient and persistent identifier.

C. Advanced Behavioral Analysis: Using sophisticated algorithms to analyse user behaviour patterns over time, even when other identifiers are blocked or altered.

7. Legal and Regulatory Challenges

Current legal and regulatory frameworks, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), focus primarily on cookie-based tracking and explicit consent.

While these regulations are starting to address fingerprinting, enforcement and compliance are still in their early stages. This legal ambiguity makes it harder for users to assert their privacy rights regarding fingerprinting.

8. Impact on Web Functionality

Altering or blocking fingerprinting data can have unintended consequences on web functionality. Many websites use fingerprinting techniques for legitimate purposes, such as security (e.g., fraud detection) and user experience optimization.

Disabling these features can lead to degraded performance, accessibility issues, or even blocking access to certain services.

Browser Fingerprinting and GDPR

The GDPR is built around several core principles designed to protect individuals’ personal data and ensure transparency in data processing practices. Key principles include:

  • Lawfulness, Fairness, and Transparency: Data must be processed legally, fairly, and in a transparent manner.
  • Purpose Limitation: Data should be collected for specified, explicit, and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes.
  • Data Minimization: Only the data necessary for the intended purpose should be collected and processed.
  • Accuracy: Personal data should be accurate and kept up to date.
  • Storage Limitation: Data should be stored only as long as necessary for the purposes for which it was collected.
  • Integrity and Confidentiality: Personal data should be processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and accidental loss, destruction, or damage.

With the confluence of browser fingerprinting and GDPR, one of the most critical requirements for data processing is obtaining explicit user consent.

This means that before any data is collected or processed using fingerprinting techniques, users must be informed about the purpose of the data collection and give their explicit consent. This consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.

Challenges and Legal Risks

Using browser fingerprinting without proper user consent can lead to significant legal risks for businesses. Non-compliance with the GDPR can result in hefty fines and damage to a company’s reputation. Some of the main challenges include:

  • Lack of User Awareness: Many users are unaware of how fingerprinting works and the extent of data it collects, making it difficult to obtain genuinely informed consent.
  • Complex Consent Mechanisms: Implementing consent mechanisms that comply with GDPR requirements can be technically challenging and may impact user experience.
  • Data Security Concerns: Ensuring the security of the collected data to prevent breaches or misuse is another critical challenge.

The Problem with Traditional Analytics and Browser Fingerprinting

Reliance on Fingerprinting Techniques

Traditional web analytics tools often rely heavily on fingerprinting techniques to track users and collect data. These tools gather detailed information about user behaviour, preferences, and interactions, providing valuable insights for businesses.

However, this approach conflicts with privacy regulations like the GDPR, which prioritise user consent and data protection.

The Conflict: Analytics Data vs. User Privacy

Businesses face a fundamental conflict between the need for comprehensive analytics data and the requirement to respect user privacy. While detailed analytics are crucial for optimising marketing strategies, improving user experiences, and driving growth, they must be balanced against the ethical and legal obligations to protect user privacy.

This tension creates a challenging environment for businesses to navigate, as failing to comply with privacy regulations can lead to severe consequences.

Introducing MicroAnalytics: A Privacy-First Approach

MicroAnalytics is a privacy-first web analytics platform designed to address the challenges posed by traditional analytics methods. Unlike conventional analytics that rely on cookies or the much more invasive and discreet fingerprinting, MicroAnalytics prioritises user privacy and complies with GDPR requirements.

MicroAnalytics and Fingerprinting

MicroAnalytics bypasses the need for browser fingerprinting by also deploying other methods to collect and process user data. These methods include:

  • IP Anonymization: Instead of storing users’ IP addresses, MicroAnalytics anonymizes this data to protect user identity.
  • Minimal Data Collection: MicroAnalytics collects only the essential data needed for analytics, adhering to the GDPR’s data minimization principle.
  • User-Friendly Consent Mechanisms: The platform ensures that obtaining user consent is straightforward and transparent, aligning with GDPR guidelines.

Core Features and Privacy Protection

MicroAnalytics offers several core features that enhance user privacy and compliance with GDPR, including:

  • Real-Time Analytics: Provides up-to-date insights without compromising user privacy.
  • Customizable Privacy Setting: Allows businesses to configure privacy settings according to their specific needs and regulatory requirements.
  • Secure Data Storage**: Ensures that collected data is stored securely, protecting it from unauthorised access and breaches.

The Benefits of MicroAnalytics for GDPR Compliance

MicroAnalytics aligns with GDPR principles by embedding privacy by design into its core functionality. This approach not only helps businesses comply with regulations but also builds trust with users by demonstrating a commitment to privacy.

  • Reduced Complexity in Consent Mechanisms: We simplify the process of obtaining and managing user consent, reducing the risk of non-compliance.
  • Enhanced Brand Trust: By adopting a privacy-focused stance, businesses can enhance their reputation and build trust with their audience.
  • Essential Analytics Data: Provides the necessary insights for business optimization while respecting user privacy.


As businesses navigate the complexities of digital marketing and data analytics, the importance of balancing robust analytics with user privacy cannot be overstated.

Browser fingerprinting, while powerful, poses significant challenges under privacy regulations like the GDPR. MicroAnalytics a Web Analytics with GRPR offers a compelling solution by providing a privacy-first approach that aligns with regulatory requirements and respects user privacy.

By choosing MicroAnalytics, businesses can ensure they collect essential analytics data without compromising on privacy, ultimately fostering trust and compliance in an increasingly privacy-conscious world.

Consider adopting MicroAnalytics today to protect user privacy while gaining valuable insights for your business growth.