5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy on Google Chrome

Google and Chrome are a bit shaky on the privacy front. If you were being cynical, you could say that they hardly have a privacy front at all – tracking your web browsing, gathering up your personal data, and using it all to pepper you with targeted ads (which bothers some people more than others).

If you’re in the Google ecosystem of Gmail, Drive, Google+ and so on, then you’re pretty much signing up to have your personal data scanned by the company’s algorithm bots. But at least you can protect yourself to an extent when using Chrome, which has several privacy options that’ll keep you covered … to an extent.

Location History has echoes of a sci-fi dystopia about it. Unbeknownst to most people, this feature tracks your movements literally wherever you go, letting you (or, say, someone who’s stolen your phone or accessed your Google account) see where you’ve been every second of every day that you’re logged into a Google account. Freaky stuff.

To disable this feature, go to your account page by clicking your profile picture at the top right of Google, Gmail, or other Google service, then clicking “My Account.” Next, click “Personal info & privacy -> My Activity -> Activity Controls,” and then scroll down to Location History. (Click “Manage Activity” here to see just how accurately this service has been tracking you.) Once you’re done being appalled, click the blue slider next to Location History to turn it off.

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This is a simple thing to do really, but then it’s also simple to just slip into the habit of using Google to search for things because it’s just “there” all the time. So break out of the cycle and set another more privacy-friendly search engine to use as your default instead.

DuckDuckGo is the fashionable option these days, and it doesn’t track any of your search terms, encrypts your data, and all the usual privacy bells and whistles. But another one worth considering is Startpage which runs Google searches by proxy, so that it gets all the power of Google’s search results without Google knowing it’s you doing the browsing. When looking through search results, you can click the “By Proxy” option under each result so the site you click through to can’t track you!

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By this point, most people know that cookies aren’t as sweet or innocent as their names suggest – they allow websites to create files on your computer that store information about your web behaviour within given websites. Sites like Amazon, for example, use them to present you with tailored shopping recommendations on the homepage.

Some people don’t mind this, but those who do can set the cookies to get deleted automatically each time you close your browser. Click the menu icon at the top right of “Chrome -> Settings -> Show advanced settings -> Privacy -> Content settings,” then under Cookies click “Keep local data only until you quit your browser.”

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A lightweight web tool, Privacy Check-up lets you play around with your sharing/privacy settings across various Google service like Photos, YouTube, Google+, and so on. It’s pretty self-explanatory once you’re on the page and is a neatly-presented way of making sure certain activities of yours are as private as you want them to be.

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People have mixed feelings about this one because although it technically prevents sites from tracking your web activity, it’s completely optional. So even if you enable it, whether or not it’ll work will be at the discretion of the sites you visit.

With that in mind, here’s how to turn it on: click the menu icon in “Chrome -> Settings -> Show advanced settings,” then under Privacy tick the “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request …” box.

protect-privacy-on-chrome-do-no-track

While these tips should go some way towards alleviating your privacy anxieties via Chrome, the fact remains that Google relies on your data to keep going, and if you’re using its services, then the trade-off is a chunk of your web privacy. Ultimately, if you feel uncomfortable with all of Google’s prying, then it might be worth bowing out of the Google ecosystem altogether, as hard as that may seem!

20 comments

  1. The best way to protect your privacy from Google is NOT to use any of their products. However, there are couple of problems with that bit of advice.
    1) Many people cannot “live” without Google products, privacy be damned.
    2) Even without using ANY Google products, one is exposed to that company’s prying. There are several ‘about:config’ settings in Firefox that allow Google to collect data from FF users. These settings are, in effect, hidden from the casual user. They cannot be changed through Preferences, only through a direct manual editing of the ‘about:config’ file.

    I’m sorry but the changes suggested above, at best, do nothing more than placate the Chrome users and, at worst, lull them into a false sense of security. If Google can have ‘hidden’ settings in Firefox, not product that is not theirs, it is naive to think that there are no hidden/secret settings in Chrome that make sure that Google does not lose the ability to collect data.

  2. I would rather use one of the anti-tracking addons, than trust the ‘do not track’ check box.

    • “Do Not Track” is nothing more than just a polite suggestion which the vast majority of sites, starting with Google, ignore with impunity. We should use the strongest anti-tracking add-ons we can find.

      If you read the Terms of Use or the EULA for the sites you visit, buried somewhere in the legalese fine print will be a phrase to the effect that “any and all data and/or information posted on this site becomes OUR property to do with as we see fit”. What are the chances that a “Do not track” request will be honored in face of such corporate policy?!

      BTW – this site uses at least three trackers according to my add-ons.

      • @dragonmouth What add on do you use for this? I’ll use whatever you got if it’s good or at least better then what chrome has

        • First of all I use neither Windows nor Chrome. FWIW, I use Firefox. I am used to it. I’ve been using it since the last millennium when it was called Phoenix. :-)
          The add-ons I use are:
          Ghostery
          Privacy Badger
          NoScript
          Better Privacy
          uBlock Origin
          They may or may not be available for Chrome. (I was going to say ‘Google is your friend’ but I don’t think in this it would be appropriate. /GRIN/) Try DuckDuckGo.

          Also, as I said in my original post, I have manually edited certain privacy ‘about:config’ settings.

          Remember, Just because you’re paranoid, does not mean that someone is not after you. :-)

          • @dragonmouth I don’t use windows either because of your teachings. I’m using Linux Mint 18.1 Mate Desktop And I have ublock origin already and isn’t Ghostery Privacy Badger and Better Privacy all the same thing? Don’t they conflict with each other? And what does no script do? And I tried Firefox in Linux and found it to be sluggish. And I’m using Vivaldi as my browser and it uses Chrome extensions. And what settings did you edit in about:config? And when you’re online you can never be too paranoid I think

  3. @Saul Goldfarb:
    “isn’t Ghostery Privacy Badger and Better Privacy all the same thing?”
    For all I know, They may be. However, they look like they each block different trackers. There is some overlap but they do coexist peacefully on my system. Privacy Badger is very well recommended. Some people claim that Ghostery sells user data, but no definite proof has been provided. I’ve heard nothing special, either good or bad about Better Privacy. I just know it works.

    NoScript blocks malicious Java scripts that may be buried in a particular page. It uses pre-compiled blocking lists to do this. There are 2 or 3 lists for English language sites and a bunch for other languages. You can also manually add or delete entries on the lists.

    “what settings did you edit in about:config?”
    Off the top of my head, I cannot give you a list, there are quite a few settings. Do an Internet search for ‘about:config privacy settings’ or ‘Firefox privacy settings’ and you should get a list of articles.

    Yes, Firefox can be sluggish but I’m too used to FF to change.

    • @dragonmouth as you know I pay attention to and do just about everything you say to do. So other then give up Vivaldi for Firefox I already have ublock origin but since you have no problems with conflicts I’m gonna add the other extensions you mention and see how they behave with my Vivaldi browser

      • If you run into any problems with an extension, you can always either disable it or uninstall it.

        • @dragonmouth Well I added all the extensions you said and all of a sudden pictures wouldn’t display and text on pages got all weird looking on me. And I tried disabling each extension one by one and tried refreshing the pages and still same result. So since I couldn’t figure out which extension was the culprit I removed all the extensions except ublock origin of course. I guess the other extensions don’t like Vivaldi or Vica versa

          • Sorry to hear about the extension not working. I wish i could help you but I never used Vivaldi. If you really want to use these extensions, maybe somebody on the Vivaldi forum can help.

            I suspect that NoScriipt is the culprit. For a while I had similar problems when I enabled NS. After several months the problems went away. I guess either Firefox or NS, or both, finally made the needed changes.

  4. Hi Robert. Thank you for mentioning StartPage.com for getting Google search results in privacy! We’ll be posting this story in our social media channels later.

  5. Only a fool would trust the menu options in Google or Chrome. I don’t subscribe to leaving my privacy and security to a giant company’s discretion. Instead I ripped the OS off of my OnePlus 3 and installed an OS that DOESN’T come with spyware, or any app that I didn’t place there myself! (LineageOS…..formerly CyanoGenMod) I know Google must hate me and people like me who refuse to conform. But hey better safe than sorry. I won’t ever again “settle” for what a company THINKS my desktop….laptop…..tablet….or cellphone OS / User Interface should be….No Windows or MacOs….just Linux…and LineageOS…and that’s pretty much it.

  6. @dragonmouth I think the problem is that Vivaldi is yet another Chrome knockoff and the owner/developer of Vivaldi is the former head of the Opera web browser. And also Vivaldi is relatively new on the market as well as far as browsers go. And it’s supposed to be compatible with all the extensions in the Chrome web store. Unfortunately I’ve found that not all the Chrome extensions work in Vivaldi although most do. Unfortunately it appears that ublock origin is the only one that functions well in Vivaldi. Other then that to me Vivaldi is an awesome browser and combined with my 200 MB Internet speed it goes really fast. If and when Firefox fixes itself to perform as fast as Vivaldi does then at that point I’ll switch back to Firefox

    • “Vivaldi is yet another Chrome knockoff”
      I KNEW there was a reason why I ignored Vivaldi! /GRIN/

      “If and when Firefox fixes itself to perform as fast as Vivaldi does”
      Not very likely to happen. The endemic problem with 99.99% of software is ‘feature creep’. For many reasons, developers are constantly adding features/functionality to their programs. The additions only serve to slow the program(s) down. Enjoy Vivaldi’s speed while it last because each of its future versions will be more bloated and slower running than the previous ones. When Chrome first came out, it was svelte and quick. Then, along with popularity, it gained features and weight.

      • @dragonmouth I actually remember when Chrome first came out and you’re right it was lightweight and really fast. As I remember at that time Firefox was really fast too back in the day. Also do you remember the Avant Browser back then? It worked awesome. Not sure if there’s a Linux version of Avant. I’ll have to check. If you know of the Avant Browser what is your opinion of it?

        • Surprisingly, even though I am a distro hopper, I do not software-hop. I tend to stay with programs unless given a good reason to switch. I started using Phoenix/Firefox on Windows to replace IE and I stuck with it. I do recall an Avant browser but I don’t think I ever used it. I’ve tried Midori and Arora Linux browsers but found them lacking in comparison to Firefox.

          • @dragonmouth I too found Midori and some of the other Linux browsers to be really well just blah so I never stayed with any of those. And I looked and there doesn’t appear to be an Avant Browser for Linux but I’ll try researching further. One browser I saw that looked pretty interesting that I might try is the Russian based Yandex web browser. And they have a Linux counterpart

  7. @dragonmouth, like @Saul Goldfarb I am one of your fan, and read very carefully your comments, and very often follow your advices. I will re-use what Saul Goldfarb said in a different post “you are my Hero” !
    On this privacy issue I realised I was using the same tools as you, apart from the about:config settings, so I followed your advice and “duckduckgoed” it, and easily found several article giving advice on which settings to modify. But I also found an easier solution.
    There is a “privacy-settings” addon for firefox.
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/privacy-settings/
    This addon regroup most or all of those about:config settings in a GUI form so you can access and modify them all in one place. Does the same thing but might be a bit more user-friendly.
    Hope this can help others.

    • @Jyves @dragonmouth is the best even though he doesn’t believe me. MTE needs to hire him on staff as the Linux person. He knows more about Linux I think then anyone

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