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Tracking with browser fingerprints

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Wednesday May 19, 2010 )

A headache for affiliate marketers is the “soggy cookie” phenomenon – or cookies that aren’t set at all due to browsers set to reject them. A way around this may be browser fingerprinting.

It’s not uncommon for Internet users to set their browsers to reject cookies or to be very selective of cookies they’ll accept. It’s an understandable action, but one that also impacts on affiliate marketers and site owners participating in affiliate programs as cookies are often the only method by which a referral is tracked.

No cookie = no commission. I remember reading somewhere a few years ago that cookie-related issues could be costing affiliates up to 20% of their commissions.

The solution – which is concerning privacy advocates – could be browser fingerprinting.

If you look at the server logs for traffic for your site, you’ll see information like this after the IP address/page called by a visitor:

“Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)”

This is called the user-agent string.

Add to that the ability to determine screen resolution, a list of all browser plugins, and the user’s timezone through the use of readily available JavaScript and you have the basis of “fingerprinting” that visitor with a high degree of accuracy.

Given that JavaScript is used so widely on the web; most folks have it switched on as without it, many web site features don’t work.

According to Ars Technica, fingerprints can also be used to “bake” new cookies for users who have deleted theirs, making cookie tracking that much harder to eliminate.

It sounds like a good solution for the affiliate tracking nightmare – but unfortunately, it may be also used for more nefarious purposes too as no-one is yet sure how much of a privacy problem fingerprinting may pose.

Read more on Ars Technica


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