Accelerometers are quite the engineering feat, allowing users to control various things on the software-end by simply moving around their handsets. However, researchers have found that accelerometers can also be used to track web usage in order to provide catered ads to users.
Researchers at Stanford University have discovered a way to distinguish and track individual devices just by looking at data that accelerometers provide to websites. Security researcher Hristo Bojinov discovered that all accelerometers give out a unique set of numbers that advertisers can use to track users, thanks to imperfections with accelerometer technology.
What’s most concerning, perhaps, is that this kind of data provided by the accelerometer cannot by shut off like cookies can; users can easily browser cookies and shut off certain tracking settings in their web browser, but you can’t just shut off an accelerometer.
Bojinov says he’s not sure whether or not advertisers have already discovered this accelerometer trick, but he notes that he certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they were exploring the idea. Of course, he mentions that advertisers already have ways that they can track users without relying on cookies, such as using web browser information that users can’t control, so it’s possible that accelerometers might not even be needed as an ad-tracking source, but don’t be surprised if marketers at least sniff around in that area to see if there’s more data they can get on you.
Essentially, it’s pretty much impossible to not be tracked entirely. The Stanford researchers also discovered that microphones and speakers have their own unique frequencies that can also be used to track individual devices, and even cellular radio signals emit unique frequencies, thanks to interference with other surrounding objects.
However, users can at least have a say in some of the areas that they could be tracked in, such as the ability to block certain cookies and prevent advertisers from tracking your web browsing history in some browsers that offer the feature. You can also get third-party plugins that restrict tracking and can even block ads from showing up. However, discoveries in hardware tracking are making it harder for users to stay completely off the grid.