Google Chrome is “surveillance software”

by Playaguy

Google makes money on advertising. Letting them run how you interact with the internet is an open invitation for them to spy.

If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.

via siliconvalley:

You open your browser to look at the web. Do you know who is looking back at you?

Over a recent week of web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the web.

This was made possible by the web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.

Lately I’ve been investigating the secret life of my data, running experiments to see what technology really is up to under the cover of privacy policies that nobody reads. It turns out, having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most-popular web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.

It made me decide to ditch Chrome for a new version of nonprofit Mozilla’s Firefox, which has default privacy protections. Switching involved less inconvenience than you might imagine.

My tests of Chrome versus Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer, but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you’d think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.

And that’s not the half of it.

Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

 

Firefox isn’t perfect – it still defaults searches to Google and permits some other tracking. But it doesn’t share browsing data with Mozilla, which isn’t in the data-collection business.

At a minimum, web snooping can be annoying. Cookies are how a pair of pants you look at in one site end up following you around in ads elsewhere. More fundamentally, your web history – like the color of your underpants – ain’t nobody’s business but your own. Letting anyone collect that data leaves it ripe for abuse by bullies, spies and hackers.

Google’s product managers told me in an interview that Chrome prioritizes privacy choices and controls, and they’re working on new ones for cookies. But they also said they have to get the right balance with a “healthy web ecosystem” (read: ad business).

Firefox’s product managers told me they don’t see privacy as an “option” relegated to controls. They’ve launched a war on surveillance, starting this month with “enhanced tracking protection” that blocks nosy cookies by default on new Firefox installations. But to succeed, first Firefox has to convince people to care enough to overcome the inertia of switching.

It’s a tale of two browsers – and the diverging interests of the companies that make them.

 

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