Dear Lifehacker, I dig Chrome for its speed and its many small but handy features. But I'm also wondering how much privacy I'm trading for the convenience and quickness. What, exactly, does Chrome know about me, and what does it share with its corporate creator? Sincerely, Concerned Chrome Convert
We know how you feel. Take a step back and think about everything you do through Chrome, and it looks like an image of your entire life at times. Here's what Chrome does and does not take in, what Google does with the data it does pick up, and a few reassuring points about data you're not sending over.
The Company Line
Here's how Google, and Google representatives, describe the data that Chrome does and does not take in, and what Google does with it if it gets passed back to headquarters.
What Stays With You
• The links you click and enter in the address bar: Like any other browser, your history of web travel might be saved locally, for quick return visits, but Chrome is not regularly sending your browsing history back to the mothership.
• Passwords: When stored on your local machine, your passwords are encrypted. When transmitted to Google's servers for syncing, your passwords (and bookmarks, and other data) are encrypted during transmission. Your passwords, however, are encrypted before being stashed on Google's servers, so Google can't see them. You can set up this level of encryption in your Personal settings.
What Goes to Google
Google's full list of privacy notices about Chrome, and what its browser sends back home, is a very public document. Here are some highlights and explanation:
Searches or partial searches for auto-complete suggestions: Almost entirely so that Google can throw you back some relevant results. You can disable this in Chrome's "Under the Hood" settings by un-checking the "Use a prediction service" setting.
• Searches or URL loads with Instant enabled: If you've enabled Instant in your settings, or from the about:flags section, it's safe to presume that pretty much every character you type into Chrome's address bar is sent, analysed and returned to you. Instant searching is not enabled by default.
• "No such page" results on some sites: If a site doesn't have its own 404/"Sorry, this page doesn't exist" that's semi-substantial, Chrome may offer its own "Maybe you meant this" page, according to Matt Cutts. You can disable this in Chrome's "Under the Hood" settings by un-checking the "Use a web service to help resolve navigation errors" setting.
• Crash reports and usage statistics, if enabled: If you checked a box during installation, or in your settings, to give Google notes and details on Chrome and how you use it, here's the kind of thing you're allowing them to have a peek at:
Usage statistics contain aggregated information such as preferences, button clicks, and memory usage. It does not include web page URLs or any personal information. Crash reports contain system information at the time of the crash, and may contain web page URLs or personal information, depending on what was happening at the time of the crash.
What Others Say
Beyond Google's official line on what it collects and why, here's what some of the more sceptical Chrome observers have noted is being picked up by Google's browser: [Image via Inane World]
• A unique string: A code string that Google says is non-identifying, and used to measure the success of Google's Chrome promotion/marketing campaigns, along with early usage notes. You can avoid having this string installed by downloading Chrome directly from Chrome's web site.
The Privacy-Conscious Alternative: Iron Browser
Don't like what Google's collecting on your habits? Want protection beyond just flipping the right switches? Consider Iron Browser, built from the same source code as Chrome and its Chromium counterpart, but with the distinct inability to send back any information back to Google.
Seriously, that's most everything that's different about Iron — just the privacy issues. It's also not updated as frequently, but your search typing, usage statistics, and other data is kept in your own system.
We hope that gave you a better idea of what Chrome wants to know in exchange for providing a seriously fast browsing experience, Concerned Chrome Convert. If our commenters have any more advice for your (rhetorical, but serious) situation, they'd be free to leave them in the comments.