How to Optimize Google Chrome for Maximum Privacy

Chrome includes quite a few features that send data to Google’s servers. We don’t recommend you disable all these features, as they do useful things. But, if you’re concerned about the data Chrome sends to Google, we’ll explain what all the various settings do so you can make your own decisions.

If you just want to browse privately without leaving any tracks on your own PC, launch a private browsing window by clicking on Chrome’s Menu and clicking “New incognito Window”.

Choose Which Data Chrome Synchronizes

Chrome automatically synchronizes your browser data to your Google account by default, assuming you’ve signed into Chrome with your Google account. This allows you to access information like your bookmarks and open tabs on other devices you own.

To view and change these sync options, click Menu > Settings.

If you don’t want Chrome to sync any data, click “Disconnect your Google Account” under Sign In. You’ll be able to use Chrome without associating a Google account with your browsing.

If you only want to synchronize some types of data, click “Advanced sync settings” instead. Chrome synchronizes your installed apps, extensions, themes, browser settings, autofill entries, browsing history, bookmarks, saved passwords, open tabs, and saved credit cards by default. You can select “Choose what to sync” and choose which individual types of data you want to sync with your Google account.

If you’d like to sync your data with a little more privacy, select the “Encrypt all synced data with your own sync passphrase” option here. You’ll be able to choose your own passphrase to encrypt your synchronized data, and it will be stored on Google’s servers in an encrypted form. You’ll have to remember a separate sync passphrase and enter it into Chrome on all your devices.

Google uses your Chrome browsing history to personalize your search results by default, assuming you’re signed into Chrome with a Google account. If you’d like to disable this but stay signed into Chrome with your Google account, click the “Google Activity Controls” link at the bottom of the Advanced Sync Settings pane. Uncheck the “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services” checkbox on the web page.

Pick Which Online Services Chrome Uses

To find more privacy-related options, click the “Show advanced settings” link at the bottom of Chrome’s Settings page. Under the Privacy section, choose which options you want to enable or disable.

The checkboxes here control whether Chrome uses various Google services or not. Here’s a quick explanation of each:

  • Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors: When you can’t connect to a web page—for example, if you type a web address wrong—Chrome will send the address of the page to Google and Google will suggest similar addresses you may have meant to type. If you disable this, Chrome won’t send your mistyped addresses to Google.
  • Use a prediction service to help complete searches and URLs typed in the address bar: Chrome will send your address bar searches to your default search engine—that’s Google, unless you’ve changed it—and you’ll see suggestions as you type. If you disable this, Chrome won’t send what you type in your address bar to your search engine until you press “Enter”.

  • Use a prediction service to load pages more quickly: When you visit a web page, Chrome looks up the IP addresses of the links on the page. Chrome will preload web pages it thinks you might click next, and they may set cookies in your browser as if you had visited them. If you disable this, Chrome won’t load anything until you click it.
  • Automatically report details of possible security incidents to Google: Chrome will send data to Google each time it detects a suspicious website or file download. If you disable this, Chrome won’t send this data to Google.
  • Protect you and your device from dangerous sites: Chrome uses Google’s Safe Browsing service to check web addresses you visit against known dangerous addresses. Chrome automatically downloads a list of dangerous websites, so it doesn’t send the address of each web page you visit to Google. However, if you visit a web page that matches something on the list, Chrome will send its address to Google’s servers to verify if it’s a risky website or not. Chrome won’t protect you from malware or phishing websites if you disable this, so we recommend leaving it enabled.

  • Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors: Chrome will send what you type in text boxes in your browser to Google’s servers if you enable this setting. You’ll get the same powerful spellcheck feature used in Google Search to help spellcheck anything you type on the web. If you disable this, Chrome will use its own local spellcheck dictionary instead. It won’t be as effective, but it will happen entirely on your computer.
  • Automatically send usage statistics and crash reports to Google: Chrome sends statistical data about features you use and crashes that occur to Google. Google uses this data to fix bugs and improve Chrome. Chrome won’t report this data to Google if you disable this option.
  • Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic: Check this option and Chrome will send a “Do Not Track” request with your web browsing traffic. However, many websites will actually ignore this “do not track” request. It isn’t a silver bullet.

You can uncheck whichever features you want here, and leave the others enabled (if any).

Control What Websites Can Do

Click the “Content Settings” button under Privacy and you’ll find options that control what web pages can do in Chrome.

By default, Chrome allows websites to set cookies. These cookies are used to save your login state and other preferences on other websites, so be aware that clearing your cookies will make the web more annoying.

To have Chrome automatically clear cookies, select “Keep local data only until you quit your browser”. You’ll be able to sign into websites and use them normally, but Chrome will forget all the websites you’ve signed into and preferences you’ve changed each time you close it.

To block sites from setting cookies entirely, select “Block sites from setting any data”. This will break many different websites—for example, you won’t be able to sign into websites if you don’t accept their login cookies. We recommend you avoid this setting.

The “Block third-party cookies and site data” option allows you to block third-party cookies. In other words, Chrome won’t accept cookies unless they’re from the website you’re visiting. Third-party cookies are often used for tracking by advertising networks, but may also be used for other purposes.

Once you’ve chosen your cookie setting, you can click the “Manage Exceptions” button to create exceptions. For example, you could tell Chrome to automatically clear cookies when you close your browser, but set an exception so Chrome remembers cookies from a few specific websites you use.

The other options here control whether websites can use various features, like your location, webcam, microphone, and browser notifications. With the default options here, websites have to ask you and get your permission before they access most features.

You can scroll through here and disable various features if you don’t want websites asking to see your location or sending you desktop notifications.

Decide Whether You Want to Translate Websites

Google offers to automatically translate web pages you visit if they aren’t in your preferred language. If you agree, the web page you’re visiting is then sent to Google’s translation service so it can be translated into your preferred language. If you don’t want Google offering to translate pages you visit, uncheck “Offer to translate pages that aren’t in a language you read” under Languages.

Disabling all these features won’t prevent Chrome from “phoning home” entirely. For example, you can’t disable automatic updates (and that’s a good thing). Chrome will always update itself to ensure you have the latest version with the latest security updates. Chrome doesn’t provide a way to disable this, and you shouldn’t try. Automatic security updates are important, especially for your web browser.

But otherwise, you can disable a lot of these settings and keep your data a little more private…if you’re willing to give up some of Chrome’s conveniences.

Image Credit: Symbiotic

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
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