Is Google Chrome collecting your private information?

In a recent escalation of sectarian violence between the tech-giant love triangle (Microsoft, Google, and Apple), Microsoft has accused Google Chrome of “collecting every keystroke you make” while Internet Explorer 8 “keeps your information private through two address bars and In Private browsing.”

The accusation – made in a post on Microsoft’s TechNet Edge which now seems to have been unpublished – was accompanied with a video featuring a product manager at Microsoft showing exactly what happens with Chrome (and IE):

NOTE: This video was originally available only to users who have Silverlight installed. However, I have downloaded the video and uploaded it onto YouTube – unaltered – so everyone can view it, regardless of if you have Silverlight installed or not.

Emil Protalinski, of Ars Technica, explored in detail the validity of Microsoft’s accusation and came up with this explanation:

Even though he [LePage] didn’t really elaborate, the reason for the striking difference for IE8’s and Chrome’s behaviors is really that simple: IE8 has two boxes [address bar and search bar] and Chrome has one [address bar and search bar combined into one].

The same behavior [as Chrome’s] occurs in IE8, but only in the search bar. LePage is only correct in his assertion that IE8 does not send information to anyone when the user types into the address bar.

Emil goes on to state:

LePage makes an important mistake in his accusation against Google: his statement should not be “Chrome sends a request back to Google” but it should be “Chrome sends a request back to the search provider.” He makes this distinction with IE8 but does not with Chrome. The information is being sent so that the search provider can help the user choose a query right in their browser.

We downloaded Fiddler to make some comparisons of our own. As we suspected, Chrome can be set to send information on every keystroke to Bing (or any other search engine that supports Search Suggestions) instead of Google.

So, to sum up, Microsoft is right to an extent; they have a valid point, but their argument has large holes in it. What is your opinion on the matter? Feel free to share in the comments below.

[via The Week]

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23 comments

  1. Blue

    Chromium is the open-source, NON-Google version of Chrome that doesn’t leak. Unlike Iron (and another privately-maintained Chinese version — yikes!) it is based upon the same current development code used by Google (minus the leaks) and IS open-sourced so you can see what it is doing, if you care. Other than not being open-sourced, the biggest problem with Iron is that it is not current code AND it doesn’t play well with extensions meant for Google Chrome.
    Here’s the SoftPedia link for Chromium 5 portable.
    http://www.softpedia.com/get/PORTABLE-SOFTWARE/Internet/Browsers/Portable-Google-Chrome-Chromium.shtml
    Y

  2. Scaredwitless

    @Samuel: That’s not really true though, tinyurl has been around a LOOOONG time, way before Twitter was ever heard of, but it did “bring them mainstream” so to speak.

    Anyhow, this all has gotten way off topic, lol, but on the URL shortening, well there is nothing inherently wrong with them, and yes services like tinyurl are well established and trusted, the issue here is more simply that in a forum setting where the source of such links are of dubious question, clicking on them is a dangerous prospect since the obfuscate the real link, and it could be that the poster has malicious intentions and is sending you off to malware or some sponsored link.

  3. jivadas

    @Samuel:

    Granted that it could be a “bad site just as easily as a bad site”. tinyurl.com offers a free shortener; and has not yet got a bad reputation.
       The ostensible reason for using them is that hefty URLs. such as academics often use, sometimes get “broken” in emails. &c.
       I’ve tried another service called ohUrl, which is supposed to have a hit-meter, but it seems to be subject to the SNAFU syndrome.
    Of course any such service will last only so long as its sponsor. That’s true even of backup services, which is why Iuse both Carbonite and Dropbox
       Perhaps Ashraf will do a survey of the available systems.

    xØx
     jd

  4. Samuel

    @jivadas: The main problem with URL shorting services is that there is no way to tell where they go, it could be a bad site just as easily as a bad site. That and if the service goes away then all those links are usless.

  5. jivadas

    @Ashraf:
    Can you elaborate further on the use of tinyurl.com and similar devices? I use these extensively in coordinating work on a large translation project, for easy access to my public Dropbox pages; and find that other scholarly sources encourage their use. What are the negatives, if any?

  6. Scaredwitless

    It seems this article has definitely brought out the Google conspiracy theorists, but I’m left with the impression that those commenting don’t really fully grasp Emil Protalinski’s explanation of the behavior Microsoft “found” in Chrome… In essence he is saying the same exact thing happens in IE, in the search box–the behavior is related to the “search suggestions” feature, and as Chrome has a integrated address/search bar, it happens anytime you use the bar if you have suggestions on.  What he further explains is that the communicating happens with whatever is the default search engine–Chrome on first run ASKS YOU explicitly to choose who you want the default search provider to be.  Meaning, you could choose Bing, and the suggestion requests would go to Microsoft instead. This is fairly typical behavior for anything that uses a suggestions as you type type feature.  What’s more, if it really bothers you you can go into the Chrome options and on the “under the hood” tab, you can easily on-tick the use suggestions option, and that should nip this in the bud, it’s not hard.

  7. spell

    The only surprise is that is anyone would be surprised! I do not use google products for this reason and will not in the future.  Like redmaledeer, I use Scroogle Scraper for web searches.
    Google now bundle a little spy file called ‘google.updater.exe’  when you download their products without informing you. It is ostensibly to help you keep up to date with versions …really…really ???
    It is secreted in such a way that you are unaware it is active and almost impossible to get rid of when you discover its behaviour.
    The recent fall-out  google had with the Chinese government was only because the Chinese Government would not allow Google a monopoly as the prime search engine in China. They previously had several happy years of partnership in the spying game on the Chinese population; in particular Chinese dissidents.
    Spying has become second nature to google and I dont think they can help themselves anymore. Google have no conception of privacy or the publics concerns over the privacy issue,  as their CEO Eric Schmidt declared: (Schmidt) “suggests you alter your scandalous behavior before you complain about his company invading your privacy”
    So now we know, to value our privacy is, according to Google, tantamount to being a filthy degenerate.

  8. redmaledeer

    If you are concerned about privacy on Chrome, you might check out the Iron browser. I am no definitive authority on this, but it is a variant Chrome which claims to eliminate the “phoning home” features of Chrome. There is also a program, whose name I forget, which claims to do about the same when applied to Chrome.

    If you are concerned about Google, you might check out Scroogle. It is a special-purpose proxy which stands between you and Google and shields you from the Big G.

  9. Lamont Cranston

    Ashraf,
    There are no polemics involved here! Google has been doing this since the days of their toolbar inception.
    However, they did learn this trick from MSFT, they simply did it so much better. I have not used any Google or MSFT toolbars, or Live, or desktop search, or BHO’s for about 7 years.
    I saw something I did not like back then, and like these apps even less now.
    There is an insidious element to this type of indexing. And, for the same reason I do not have a Facebook nor a MySpace account. And, will never have.
    Rgds,
     

  10. Neville

    LOL, pot calling the kettle black, what about MS’s index.dat files in every Win machine. I run a bit of security software in my boxes. This one has Avira AntiVir, Peer Block, Ad-Aware, Spybot-S&D, CCleaner, Glary Utilities, Malwarebytes,  Firewall and A-Squared.
     
    Almost always use FF. with NoScript, Better Privacy, Flagfox and Ghostry add-ons. On top of that I’m behind a hardware firewall, funny, not much malware gets through.
     
    The best part is the programs are all free and legal.
     
    Cheers
     
    Neville

  11. Giovanni (Italian smart King of Freebies...LOL!)

    Great find but…. what about FIREFOX?

    Look, I think that GOOGLE has become the BIG BROTHER of the web: they read our email on GMAIL, they know our daily online habits and what we search while surfing!!

    So I’m honestly not surprised at all about this discovery made by Microsoft.
    Do you know how many data GOOGLE knows about us?

    Look at here:
    http://www.criminaljusticeusa.com/blog/2009/25-surprising-things-that-google-knows-about-you/

    http://mashable.com/2007/07/07/google-vs-everyone/

    The version that lawmakers (especially in US) is foisting upon naive people surfing the web is that Governments and big Corporations should have control over your private information, but only the “right” people (Google boys, right??LOL!!) will be allowed to access it.
    In my humble view both privacy and anonymity are a strong safeguard against totalitarianism, tyranny, oppression, and corruption and must be protected as essential rights at all costs.
    Those who wish to strip the “protections” of a free society such as people’s privacy should be viewed with the greatest suspicion, as you can’t protect the freedom of speech by destroying the basis of a free society (free competition, people’s privacy, free market etc…) for profit’s sake.

    And it’s also rumored that there is  a close (and in my huble view worrying)  liaison  between GOOGLE and the CIA:  did you know that, Ashraf?

    http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/december2006/061206seedmoney.htm

    http://www.infowars.net/articles/march2008/310308Google.htm

    It appears that GOOGLE was originally launched using the CIA money for a set of  activities that have nothing to do with the open source…LOL!

    But  to make things worse in most cases people are completely unaware of this kind of threat while surfing the net!!!

    Are we really FREE on the WEB??

    I begin to have some doubts about it…LOL!!

    What about you??

    Good night from Italy!

  12. Joji

    @Ashraf: Srry, I didn’t know I should post them on forums. Real sorry.

    Oh, and ugh is shortening URLs bad? Probably because they won’t hyperlink right? I understand.

    Thanks you for telling me that, I’ll be more careful next time. ;)

    ~Joji~

  13. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Joji: Can you 1) stop using shortened URLs and 2) Post about any offers that you find or see in the forums instead of comments (they get lost in comments and no one pays attention)?

    Thanks =D.

  14. Joji

    ZoneAlarm is having a 24hrs giveaway on their product: http://tinyurl.com/ys8fsj
    [[ Got the info from “you know who”, but it’s your choice if you want to post it or not… no wait, you can delete the sentences inside this bracket and you could just say “Joji got a newsletter from ZoneAlarm that they will be doing a 24hrs giveaway”. I am so smart… I think? LoL. ]]

    Hope that helps. :) Posting same thing on AskVG, my other trusty techie site! :D

    ~Joji~

  15. Joji

    First guy to comment… again.
     
    I wonder how long this friendly fight between those 3 will last… kinda sad how Microsoft left such big holes behind. That was very careless of them. Though, with Keyscrambler on, I’m safe on the internet and Chrome won’t log my keys in! XD
     
    ~Joji~