What is Fingerprinting in Online Marketing

What Is Fingerprinting In Online Marketing

  • Dec 07, 2020
  • 1147 words
  • 4 minutes read
Photo by Lukenn Sabellano on Unsplash 

Being able to reach potential customers at the right time on the right device is essential for modern marketers and advertisers. That is why they constantly look for ways on how to connect with their customers effectively.

When advertising moved from the offline platforms to the online world, advertisers were presented with an opportunity they didn’t have before. Advertisers were given a chance to reach out to customers through personalized, targeted ads.

Individual ad targeting had become the standard for online advertising, which heavily relied on web cookies. However, the effectiveness of web cookies had faced obstacles with more customers demanding information privacy. 

Over the years, online users have been deleting the web cookies, limiting their use, and even employing ad blockers.

To ensure a continuous connection with customers through personalized ads, marketing, and advertising agencies track users across the world wide web through a new form of tracking, which is fingerprinting.

What is fingerprinting in online marketing, and how does it work?

Fingerprinting in Digital Marketing

Like fingerprinting recognition about a person’s identity in a police lineup, fingerprinting in digital marketing is also used to track a person’s information, yet, through the person’s device. It is called device fingerprinting.

Device fingerprinting, also known as a browser, canvas, and machine fingerprinting, identifies a device based on its unique configuration.

Unlike web cookies stored on a user’s side, such as on the user’s device or browser, device fingerprints are stored on a server-side, that is, in a database.

Read Further:  The Impact of Privacy Laws on online advertising and innovation (opinion).

What Exactly is Fingerprinting in Online Marketing

Before adopting fingerprinting for online marketing, it was mainly used to prevent software piracy and credit card fraud. 

Fingerprinting was first used to confirm that the object’s application was only for authorized computers. Anti-fraud companies used it to identify devices that had engaged in fraudulent transactions.

Nowadays, fingerprinting is used to identify a person through his activity on different devices. It has become a powerful new tool for marketers and advertisers in reaching potential customers, aside from relying on web cookies to deliver targeted ads.

Device fingerprinting allows marketers and advertisers to track online behavior than other current digital marketing techniques effectively. While cookies can be blocked or deleted, device fingerprints are difficult to delete after being collected.

A device fingerprinting developer even claims that the technology can link the fingerprints of different devices used by the same individual.

By collecting online users' information, device fingerprinting could help deliver targeted ads to users based on their activity on their computers, mobile phones, and other devices.

Read further: What is Customer Data Platform (CDP): Meaning, Features, and Benefits

The Use of Fingerprinting in Online Marketing

Device fingerprinting is a powerful technique used by marketers and advertisers, usually a backup option in a marketing campaign.

Machine fingerprinting can be used when tracking a device ID is not feasible because the network does not support the relevant identifiers and when running a campaign to track device IDs as a precaution to those who deactivated the tracking identifier.

  • Analytics and Tracking - Aside from preventing credit card and bank fraud, device fingerprinting is undeniably one of the best technologies when it comes to analytics and tracking. It can accurately identify and report on unique visitors.
  • eCommerce Fraud - For marketers who are working for eCommerce businesses, device fingerprinting can be a useful tool in determining if an order is from a fraudster or not. This can help business owners to decide if they should cancel the order or not.

Why Use Device Fingerprinting

Though there are various methods in tracking ads based on a device ID, they won’t be effective for mobile marketers looking to track their overall marketing efforts.

The fact that not all advertising networks can support the integration of advertising identifiers means that marketers and advertisers cannot determine precisely who the user is and whether the conversion resulted from an ad.

As people carry out various activities online, they are more inclined to using multiple devices to accomplish their tasks. This poses challenges to brands to build a connection with prospects and customers.

Furthermore, with the ongoing demands for data privacy, people are deleting cookies and installing ad blockers on their browsers, which weakens web cookies' effectiveness to drive ROI. 

With device fingerprinting, marketers and advertisers can track the users based on their device's unique configuration. Device fingerprinting is the best backup plan for tracking when web cookies can’t get the job done.

How Does Device Fingerprinting Really Work

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Device fingerprinting is a method used by advertisers to identify people who interacted with their ads. It works by using publicly available attributes to create a “fingerprint” of the user.

The “fingerprint” can include the device type, user location, and other information relevant to advertisers. This type of information is always sent by internet-connected devices when connected to a web page or a server.

Every time a digital device connects to the internet, it broadcasts information about its properties and settings such as the web browser used, screen resolution, and internet speed to interact smoothly with websites and other computers.

Device fingerprinting technology uses the collected information to build a profile that can identify the devices and, most importantly, the person behind them.

Even though devices have the same brand or model, they differ in a configuration, such as the set of plugins, browser installed, and hardware. These characteristics make the devices unique from each other, making the device fingerprinting a very effective tool in tracking for delivering ads for the right audiences.

Is Device Fingerprinting Legal Under GDPR

Obviously, device fingerprinting is beneficial for delivering targeted ads. But it shouldn’t be seen as only beneficial to marketers and advertisers.

Device fingerprinting can definitely aid online users when it comes to credit card and bank fraud. It can help in digital rights management and fighting bank fraud.

Though device fingerprinting appears as a more powerful technology than web cookies and can come as a threat to information privacy, online users can feel at ease under the protection of GDPR law.

Marketers and advertisers can also feel at ease using this technology, given they would meet one of the 6 lawful bases of GDPR, such as legitimate interest or consent.

If a company wants to use device fingerprinting for advertising and marketing purposes, they’ll have to obtain explicit consent from the user to do so.


As technology advances, the digital media landscape is also becoming more complex.

This means that marketers and online advertisers struggle to keep up with the flourishing range of consumer touchpoints created as consumers become more spontaneous with their browsing habits.

By employing fingerprinting in online marketing, business owners can fill the gap in their overall marketing efforts.

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