Google’s Chrome web browser is the world’s most popular way for people to navigate the web. But it’s far from perfect. Google’s dominance in online advertising means it slurps up plenty of your browsing data, which is used to show you the ads that it thinks you’ll be most likely to click on.
This is Google’s business model and by using Chrome you’re agreeing to this data collection. But that doesn’t mean the company isn’t adding new privacy and security features to its product. You just need to know how to use them.
The next version of the Chrome browser, version 83, will include a bunch of updates that make it slightly easier to cleanse some of the data Google collects about you and reduce the chances of you getting hacked. Here’s what’s changing.
Real-time threat checking
On the web, scammers act quickly. The coronavirus crisis has proven this: scammers and criminals have quickly re-tooled their online tricks to prey on people’s desperation and curiosity.
Chrome’s new Enhanced Safe Browsing mode will attempt to play catchup. If you turn the feature on the address of websites you’re visiting will be shared with Google in real-time and the company will compare it to its blocklist of unsafe sites. This builds on its existing Safe Browsing mode.
“Chrome checks the URL of each site you visit or file you download against a local list, which is updated approximately every 30 minutes,” Google explains in a blog post about the new setting. “Increasingly, some sophisticated phishing sites slip through that 30-minute refresh window by switching domains very quickly.”
If you’re signed in to a Google account while you’re using Chrome, the system will be able to pull data from other Google apps you use: such as Gmail or Google Drive. If there’s a suspicious link in a document you’re working on in Drive then the tool could inform Chrome when you click on it.
There is one big caveat to this update – Google will be processing more information about where you’re going on the web, faster. The company has said that when its Safe Browsing algorithm has figured out the website you’re visiting isn’t a threat it will anonymise and eventually delete the data when it is no longer being used. Google hasn’t put a time frame hasn’t been put on this deletion.
You should be using a password manager to keep your login details secure. As part of this your passwords should be unique and secure.
Google has its own password manager built into Chrome. This can save the passwords you use to login through your browser and can recommend if your passwords are insecure. We recommend using a third-party password manager so all your data isn’t held by one company, in this case Google. But generally, Google’s password management system is better than not using anything at all.
A Safety Check tool is being added to Chrome’s settings. When you visit the tool it will run a quick scan of your Chrome setup to recommend extra privacy or security steps you could take. This includes a check on your Chrome extensions, whether you’re using the most up-to-date version of Chrome, if Safe Browsing is running, and whether any of your stored passwords have been compromised.
Google checks the passwords you have saved against a list of exposed details from previous data breaches. It works in a similar way to Have I Been Pwned but inside your browser. If Google spots a password that you’re using has been previously compromised it will prompt you to update it to something that’s more secure.
Incognito mode has never been private and it never will be. For the most private browsing experiences you need to use a VPN and a browser that doesn’t collect user information – see below for more on this.
However, Chrome will make incognito mode slightly more private. Less information about you will be captured by third-parties that have cookies installed on websites.
“In addition to deleting cookies every time you close the browser window in Incognito, we will also start blocking third-party cookies by default within each Incognito session and include a prominent control on the New Tab Page,” Google says. It will let people allow third-party cookies for individual web pages by clicking on an ‘eye’ icon in the address bar and accepting them for that page.
The Chrome update also makes it easier to delete your browsing and cookie history. Google is moving the option for this to the top of Chrome’s settings page because it’s one of the features that people use the most.
Or don’t use Chrome
The latest Google additions are a step in the right direction when it comes to making its web of privacy settings easier to use. However, there are other options if you’re looking for a more private experience overall. You could pick a privacy-focussed browser instead.
One alternative is the Tor browser, which will protect your identity online by routing your traffic through various layers of encryption. But between that and Google there are alternatives that minimise the tracking of users entirely, including FireFox, Brave and DuckDuckGo. If you can’t give up Chrome but want some more privacy within the web browser there are extensions, such as Ghostery, that sit in Chrome and make sure your browsing isn’t recorded.
Matt Burgess is WIRED’s deputy digital editor. He tweets from @mattburgess1
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