EFF has launched a new project called Panopticlick that aims to try to verify how well tracking users may work even if they disable cookies in their browsers. The idea is to catalog a fingerprint, a constellation of bits of info browsers give up freely about their particular version, the plugins and capabilities they provide, version numbers of those plugins, and so on. At the new project’s site, EFF points to some research that suggests this fingerprint may be unique enough to be as identifiable as a cookie. The data that the project gathers will either validate or debunk that idea.
When I first tried the test this morning, only a few dozen browsers were in its database. As I am writing this, it now stands at a few dozen thousand browsers. You are encouraged to test as the database grows as the number and distribution of browsers will affect the results. You can also find some practical advice on how to protect your browsing habits from this kind of finger printing. More importantly, EFF has some suggestions for browser makers on how they can make privacy modes more effective.
Being scientifically minded, I like the idea behind this project. Rather than acting on suspicions or intuitions, as much as we can generate hard, reproducible data, the more effective any discussions around the scope of the problem and appropriate solutions.