Google Chrome – data tracking and privacy


Ok, so I'm a speed freak.  I'll admit it.  I like fast cars, fast airplanes, and fast browsers!  So, when I heard about Google's Chrome browser, and how fast it was supposed to be, I had to give it a shot.

It turns out that it IS fast, and for me works on most of the websites I've visited.  Some websites have issues, so I just fire up a different browser (FireFox or Internet Explorer) and life goes on.

One of the more bothersome things about both Chrome and Internet Explorer, is that they have data tracking built in, and send results back to the mothership.  Yes, this is an invasion of your privacy, but they justify it by saying that they just collect statistical data, and use it to give you targeted ads (really, just a more clever version of Spam, but delivered via your web browser).  The idea is that if what they are advertising is something you want, then you won't feel it's Spam, but you'll be pleased to get it.  I'm dubious, but we'll see.  As a friend of mine said recently, if this leads to a downturn in the amount of email Spam we receive (as advertisers look for a more effective medium), then that's a good thing.

Right now, I'm testing IE 9 beta, and it seems to be pretty good for the most part, but I'm still not ready to abandon Chrome.  So, given that it is my browser of choice, and I don't like the privacy issues, how should that be dealt with?  Wikipedia has a great write-up on Chrome, and in it you'll find the following chart which details what data is captured and when:

Chrome sends details about its usage to Google through both optional and non-optional user tracking mechanisms.

Tracking methods
Method Information sent When Optional?
Installation Randomly generated token included in installer. Used to measure success rate of Google Chrome.

On installation

No
RLZ identifier Encoded string, according to Google, contains non-identifying information how Chrome was downloaded and its install week, and is used to measure promotional campaigns. Google provides the source code to decode this string.
  • On Google search query
  • On first launch and first use of address bar
Partial
clientID Unique identifier along with logs of usage metrics and crashes. Unknown Yes
Suggest Text typed into the address bar While typing Yes
Page not found Text typed into the address bar Upon receiving "Server not found" response Yes
Bug tracker Details about crashes and failures Unknown

Yes

Personally, I don't really care about the non-optional data capture, as it only happens once on installation.  I really don't mind if Google knows that I installed their product.  The RLZ identifier doesn't bother me too much either.  The ones at the bottom though, are more Evil in nature.  They capture every website you go to, and everything you search for.  Google claims that this data will only ever be used for statistical purposes, but we all know that if an institution has data, they'll either use it for their own ends, or the government will subpoena the data and use it for THEIR ends.  Either way, not good for regular folk like you and I.

The good part is, you can turn this offHere's how:  Open "Options" from the tool menu (the one with the wrench).  You'll get the google chrome options window.  Click on the "Under the Hood" tab at the top of the window, which gets you into the more geeky settings.  Click on the thumbnail below to zoom in.

Look for the item about sending statistics (circled in red) and un-check it.  Click "done" and you are finished.  Chrome will now not send any of the tracking information back to the mothership.  This includes all items in the chart above with a green "Yes" in the right-hand column.  It's not obvious that this one checkbox does all that (such as address bar & search text tracking), which is IMHO a tad misleading, but this is all you need to do.

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