Adobe recently added a browser extension to its Adobe Acrobat Reader DC software. Adobe tries to automatically install the extension in Google Chrome, but Chrome asks your permission before enabling it.
At the moment, this extension is only offered on Windows, and only for Google Chrome. Adobe may enable it on other browsers and operating systems in the future.
It Offers Features You Don’t Need, That Are Already Part of Chrome
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First things first: you don’t need this extension to view PDF documents in Google Chrome. Google Chrome has an integrated PDF reader, and the Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF-reading plugin is separate from the extension. You don’t even need to enable the extension to use Adobe Reader normally.
Click “Remove from Chrome” and you can continue viewing PDFs and using Adobe Reader normally.
This browser extension provides a few other features, too—none of which you need. Its toolbar icon says it can “Convert current web page to an Adobe PDF File.” That sounds convenient, but you can print to PDF in Chrome without any additional software. Just click the menu button, select “Print”, click the “Change” button under Destination, and select “Save as PDF”. Print the document from here and Chrome will save it as a PDF file. Windows 10 now has built-in PDF printing, too.
The extension’s toolbar button also allows you to quickly switch from viewing PDFs to opening them in Acrobat Reader DC on your desktop.
However, this is also a feature that’s available in Chrome without the browser extension. While viewing a PDF in Chrome’s built-in PDF reader, you can click the “Download” button at the top right corner of the PDF reader page to download it to your desktop and then open it in Adobe Reader DC.
The Extension Shares Anonymous Usage Data With Adobe
The Adobe Acrobat extension is raising eyebrows because of the permissions it asks for. It wants to “read and change all your data on the websites you visit”, “manage your downloads”, and “communicate with cooperating native applications”. This actually isn’t too unusual—browser extensions normally need a lot of permissions to integrate with your web browsing.
However, Adobe also enables the “Adobe Product Improvement Program” when you install the extension. By default, the extension “sends anonymous usage information to Adobe for product improvement purposes”. If you want to disable this feature while using the extension, you can right-click the “Adobe Reader” extension icon on Chrome’s toolbar, click “Options”, uncheck the box, and click “Save”.
Adobe provides more details about what’s collected, and the program doesn’t look as bad as it might sound. Adobe’s web page claims it only collections information about your browser type, Adobe Reader version, and the features you use in the extension itself. Adobe claims it doesn’t collect usage information about your web browsing, as you might suspect from the extensive permissions the software asks for.
Bottom Line: You Probably Shouldn’t Install the Extension
This extension is getting negative attention because Adobe is attempting to automatically install it in Chrome through an automatic Adobe Reader DC update. These updates are normally used to install security updates. Automatic updates may add new features to Adobe Reader DC itself, but people don’t expect them to install browser extensions in the background.
If you look into it, the extension isn’t as bad as it might seem. It offers some features most people don’t need at all, but it doesn’t share as much “anonymous usage information” as you might think. It’s arguably not really “spyware,” as it’s been dubbed by some websites.
But we still don’t recommend using this browser extension. We recommend using as few browser extensions as possible to stay secure, and installing a browser extension with hefty access to your system and the ability to communicate with Adobe Reader—a program that’s had quite a few security problems in the past—doesn’t seem like a great idea.
If you installed the extension and no longer want it, uninstall it from within Chrome. Click Chrome’s menu button, select More Tools > Extensions, and click the trash can to the right of “Adobe Acrobat” to remove it from your browser.