Google is making changes to the Chrome browser after security concerns were raised. Elizabeth Keatinge has more.
The feature Google didn’t advertise in its last update to its Chrome browser might wind up being its most educational.
A change that the search giant intended to clarify the sign-in experience in its browser instead alarmed some users who thought they’d just been suckered into having their Web activity sucked into their Google accounts.
That wasn’t the case, as Chrome engineering manager Adrienne Porter Felt confirmed in a tweet. But the renewed attention to how Google collects and processes browsing history should be everybody’s invitation to take a look at both their Chrome sign-in settings and other ways to keep their Web history in sync across their devices.
Where the previous version of Chrome would let you sign into Gmail or another Google service in one tab and otherwise leave you disassociated from the browser, the current release signs you into Chrome itself. That by itself did not start syncing your Web activity, but Chrome’s interface did clarify that only lesser browser settings would be saved to your Google account.
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Google apologized in a blog post Tuesday night. Chrome product manager Zach Koch wrote that the next version of Chrome, due in October, would clarify whether Web sync is on or off and let users disable automatic browser sign-in.
While you wait for that update to arrive, you should take a moment to see the data Google has collected about your browsing activity. Visit chrome.google.com/sync and sign in with your Google account, then have a look.
(Remember that Google says it only lets advertisers pay to match their pitches to interests that surface from that soup of Web activity. You can also see and edit what you look like to advertisers at adssettings.google.com.)
Your easiest opt-out is to set a sync password that will encrypt your Web activity even on Google’s servers. No advertiser will be able to bid to target data from that, but you also won’t see pages in your Google account’s browsing history that you didn’t type or paste into a browser’s address bar.
If you want to reconsider your browser choices, Mozilla Firefox is your easiest replacement. It runs on the same core operating systems as Chrome – subject to the same iOS restriction as Chrome that stop you from setting it as your default browser. And Firefox’s browser sync encrypts your history from end to end, so the non-profit behind it can’t see where you’ve been.
Apple’s iCloud offers its own private browsing-history sync that only requires logging into iCloud on a Mac or iOS device’s Settings app and enabling Safari sync. This should work blissfully well, up until you switch to an Android or Windows device.
Microsoft’s Edge offers the most limited form of browser sync: It only covers favorites, the “reading list” of pages you set aside for later perusal, and other browser settings. If you run a current version of Windows 10, you’ll also see recent pages in Win 10’s new timeline desktop feature.
In any of these scenarios, you will almost certainly run into the same old problem of knowing you saw a page but not seeing it in your saved history anywhere. In that case, you’ll just have to Google for that page – or use Bing or DuckDuckGo or whatever other non-Google site you’d rather favor with your business at the moment.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.
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