Canvas fingerprinting is a technique websites use to track visitors who access their content. It uses the HyperText Markup Language 5 (HTML5) Canvas feature to do the job. HTML5 is a programming language for displaying and organizing web pages.

To create a canvas fingerprint, HTML5 instructs the browser to draw text or three-dimensional (3D) graphics on the canvas when a user visits a site. It is then rendered into a digital token that serves as a unique identifier that allows the website to remember the visitor and his or her browsing history.

A canvas fingerprint can track website visitors based on their browser, operating system (OS), and graphics hardware.

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What User Information Is Collected During Canvas Fingerprinting?

Canvas fingerprinting, also known as “device fingerprinting,” collects the following user data:

  • Internet Protocol (IP) address
  • HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) request headers
  • User-agent (UA) string
  • Installed plugins
  • Client time zone
  • Information about the client device, such as screen resolution, touch support, OS, and language
  • Flash data provided by a Flash plugin
  • List of installed fonts
  • Silverlight (Microsoft’s framework for writing rich Internet applications; works like Adobe Flash) data 
  • List of mime-types or media types (file format identifiers) 
  • Timestamp

To know how canvas fingerprinting works, watch this short video:

Canvas fingerprinting serves several purposes for website owners, particularly for content customization, as discussed in more detail below.

Canvas Fingerprinting for Ad Customization

Online advertising has one very lucrative benefit for today’s advertisers—it enables individual ad targeting. Instead of showing an ad for computers in a computer magazine, they can now specifically target users who recently visited a website that sells computers. They can even study the said users’ profiles to see where they are from. And so, if they offer special discounts or free shipping in those users’ areas, they could even include these in their targeted ads.

In the past, targeted advertising relied on browser cookies. But since most users now regularly delete cookies, that method is no longer reliable. Add to that challenge the increasing use of ad blockers and targeted advertising becomes next to impossible.

That has since changed, though, with the introduction of HTML5 and canvas fingerprinting. Today, many HTML5 websites track their visitors’ behaviors using the technique.

Canvas Fingerprinting for Content Personalization

No one is truly anonymous on the Web these days. Surprisingly, though, 74% of users get frustrated when website content is not personalized, making canvas fingerprinting useful.

Practically every HTML5 website can keep track of visitors’ online behaviors through canvas fingerprinting, allowing website owners to personalize content for their visitors. That translates to better user experience (UX) and, hopefully, revenue gain.

What Are the Other Applications of Canvas Fingerprinting?

Analytics and Tracking

Web analysts use canvas fingerprinting to identify unique and returning website visitors accurately. That would allow them to advise their clients who their target audiences should be.

Fraud Prevention

Financial service providers and banks can use canvas fingerprinting to determine if an Internet banking session has been hijacked. If the usual location of a particular user changes based on his or her IP address, for instance, a transaction can be flagged for investigation.

Canvas fingerprinting can also alert users to credit card fraud. Every device has a unique fingerprint. So, when a credit cardholder uses his or her credit card to buy a product or acquire a service from a website, his or her device fingerprint can be checked against a database as an additional antifraud feature.

Now that you know the answer to “What is canvas fingerprinting?” would you agree that not all kinds of Internet tracking and monitoring only benefit advertisers?