Google Chrome sends personal data to Google by default, but it doesn’t have to. We’ll show you what information each feature sends to Google and why, so you can get the goodness of the Chrome browser without sacrificing privacy.
Each option provides an advantage, so you’ll lose some of Google Chrome’s features by disabling many of these options. Still, you can make informed decisions if you’re worried about Chrome sending data to the mothership.
Image by Symbiotic
Click the wrench menu at the upper right corner of the Google Chrome window, then click Options to view Chrome’s options page.
Chrome’s instant search works just like Google’s search page; a full Google search results page appears as soon as you start typing in Chrome’s address bar. Chrome sends everything you type into the address bar to Google if this is on, even if you’re typing a website address.
Instant is disabled by default for now, but you can uncheck the Enable Instant check box on the Basics tab if it’s enabled.
Chrome can synchronize your bookmarks, extensions, passwords and other browser data between your computers, but it does this by storing the data on Google’s servers.
If you’re not comfortable sharing this information with Google, click the Disconnect button on the Personal stuff tab to disable Chrome sync entirely.
Chrome can also encrypt your personal data, so you can store it on Google’s servers in an unreadable form. Click the Advanced button in the Sign In section and select “Encrypt all synced data” to activate Chrome’s encryption.
Use the “Choose my own passphrase” option and set up your own passphrase to ensure Google can’t read your personal data. You’ll need this passphrase on each computer you sync Chrome with.
The privacy section on the Under the Hood tab contains five different privacy options.
When Chrome can’t connect to a website, it sends the website’s address to Google. Google sends website and search suggestions in response, and Chrome Chrome displays them on a customized error page. Uncheck the Navigation Errors checkbox if you don’t want Chrome informing Google of website addresses when they won’t load.
Chrome sends everything you type into the address box to your default search engine. Google uses this information to offer similar website addresses and related searches in the menu that appears below the address bar. Disable the Prediction Service check box and Chrome won’t send everything you type into the box to Google.
Chrome automatically looks up the IP addresses of websites linked to from your current page. Sometimes, Chrome automatically loads a new web page in the background when the website you’re visiting instructs it to. The Predict Network Actions check box controls this behavior.
Google’s safe browsing feature has Chrome automatically download a list of potentially dangerous websites. When you visit a website that appears on the list, Chrome sends a portion of that website’s address to Google in an obfuscated form along with your IP address and a cookie, and Google tells Chrome whether the website is actually dangerous. Chrome won’t provide a warning when you access malicious websites if you disable this feature by unchecking the “Enable phishing and malware protection” check box.
The last option is the only one that’s disabled by default. It causes Chrome to send detailed information about crashes, preferences and other general browser information to Google if you enable it. Chrome never sends the address of every website you visit to Google, but it will send the full address of potentially malicious websites if you enable this option.
Click the Content Settings button in the Privacy section to view more options.
Enable the “Block third-party cookies” check box to prevent Chrome from accepting third-party cookies, which are often used by advertisers to track you online. Some websites won’t work properly if you enable this option, so you might have to disable it later.
Select the “Allow local data to be set for the current session only” option to have Chrome automatically delete cookies when you close it. This approach isn’t as drastic as disabling cookies entirely; websites that depend on cookies will still work. Websites won’t be able to track you over time with cookies, although you’ll have to log back into all your accounts after reopening Chrome.
Scroll down to the Location section on the Content Settings pane and ensure the location feature isn’t set to Allow All Sites. Chrome’s geolocation feature allows websites to track your physical location and offer local content such as weather or directions, but Chrome asks you before sharing your location with websites by default. You can also set the option to Do Not Allow to disable the location-sharing feature entirely.
Whether you’ve disabled all the features listed here or left the ones that seem useful enabled, you’re now in control of Chrome’s privacy options. SRWare Iron makes many of the same changes, but it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 12/20/11