Privacy Review: Google Chrome
I think one of the main concerns people have is that Google is mixing two worlds with their browser, the world of their consumers (the public) and the world of their advertisers – which is where the skepticism and suspicion comes in.
In hopes of bringing some light to the privacy concerns in Google Chrome, and fulfilling my curiosity, I’ve read the initial download Terms & Conditions and scoured the Privacy Policies of both Google Services and Google Chrome – below is a summary of what I found.
Google Chrome Terms of Service
This agreement doesn’t seem to have anything that explicitly states that Google Chrome stores or sends personal data, usage tracking, or other information to Google. It does however say that addons such as Google Toolbar and Google Web Accelerator do have settings that will allow for the transmission of information to Google, which can include personal information. Both the toolbar and the Web Accelerator send information about the URL you’re requesting to the Google servers. The possibility of sending personal information is directly tied to the website you’re visiting in that Google collects the URL – thus, if the URL contains any personal information (typically variables after the ‘?’,) this information will be sent and stored by Google.
- Google Toolbar: Opt-Out of sending URL information
- Google Toolbar: Opt-Out of sending usage statistics
- Google Toolbar: Terms of Service
Google Chrome & Third-Party Addons
Google Web Usage Storing Without Google Chrome
As you might know, Google dominates the web search world; however, they didn’t get to where they are without a little help from you… whether you know it or not.
Google stores all information that is typed into its search engine and yes, this does include information you type into Google Search without pressing Enter. Every keystroke is logged and reported to the Google servers. You realize this now since Google released its ‘Live Search’ feature that starts returning results before you’re finished typing – but they were storing this information long before the feature hit market. Don’t (or do?) fear though, everything that Google collects in terms of personal information is the same information that someone can get on any website using the handy built-in HTTP Headers. The information that gets transmitted to Google is as follows: IP Address (supplied by your Internet Service Provider), URL requested, User-agent (ie. Firefox 4), and Operating System (ie. Windows NT.) The information they receive looks something like this:
220.127.116.11 – 25/Mar/2003 10:15:32 –
Firefox 1.0.7; Windows NT 5.1 – 740674ce2123e969
As you can tell it’s not an insanely personal look into your life or internet usage, but it is enough to track where you’re going and what browser you’re doing it on. One thing to note is that an IP address is not a reliable way to track usage because they change out so often and that’s why I’ve bolded the most important part of that entire tracking log above. It’s a unique identifier for you that was generated when you downloaded Chrome. It’s the one identifier that they have so that everything you do on the web can be tracked back to you. Keep in mind though, this is only tracked on the Google Search site and once you transition to a new site, that’s where Google loosens its rains on your personal data.
Google Web Usage Storing With Google Chrome
The rules for Google tracking is exactly the same as when you’re using Google Search; however, when you’re using Chrome, it tracks this information for all websites and searches you do on the web, regardless of whether you’re on the Google Search site or not. This is an opt-out feature that be changed by unchecking “Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar” in the settings panel through “Under the hood”. This feature unfortunately does not have an opt-out option when using the Google Search website.
Although I made the choice a long time ago that Google Chrome wasn’t made for me, it isn’t a terrible browser. Beyond it’s privacy controversy, it does get some good reviews. However, personally I would avoid trusting a product that is made or distributed by a company that is responsible for advertising of any sort. We would all be a little to naive to believe that your information won’t make its way into the hands of their advertisers. So, consumer beware.
Other Useful Links
- Google: Advertising and Privacy