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9/2/2008
07:23 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Chrome: More Or Less Privacy?

Google's new Chrome browser may end up being more secure than the current crop of browsers, thanks to its sandboxed multiprocess architecture. But it's not yet clear whether it will be more private.

Google's new Chrome browser may end up being more secure than the current crop of browsers, thanks to its sandboxed multiprocess architecture. But it's not yet clear whether it will be more private.On the positive side, Google Chrome offers Incognito mode, a way to surf the Web without leaving a record of sites visited on the user's computer. This is affectionately known as "porn mode." Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 beta 2 and Apple's Safari Web browser offer similar covert browsing capabilities. Firefox is working on something similar.

None of these hidden browsing modes hide the standard log information that Web browser transmit to Web servers. At the Google Chrome press conference on Tuesday, one member of the audience asked whether Google had any plans to built Tor or some other anonymous browsing technology into Chrome. None of the Google panelists were ready to commit to implementing serious privacy of this sort.

One potentially negative aspect of Google Chrome is that it is more reliant on user browsing history than other browsers. Unless explicitly operated in Incognito mode or its default behavior is changed, Chrome records Web sites visited, recently closed tabs, recently saved Web pages, and frequently used search engines. It uses this information to populate a New Tab page when one is created.

Google users with other browsers may also have their browsing history recorded at their discretion, but Chrome emphasizes browsing history as the key to a good user experience. There's a good argument for doing so -- the places you've been online may well help find where you're going in the future. But such convenience is not without the potential cost of diminished privacy.

As Google's Matt Cutts stresses in a blog post aimed at defusing conspiracy theories, Google Chrome isn't secretly spying on users. It's not doing anything nefarious.

But Chrome is making data about users' online activities more central to the operation of the browser. And where there's data, there are bound to be data breaches.

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