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Google Chrome and Your Privacy

Update: If you landed here for information on Google Chrome, you may want to read a more recent post “Google Chrome: Bait and Switch“.

Google released Google Chrome today, their new web browser. Why?

While you ponder that question, I note that the data clearing “Clear browsing data…” link in the Google Chrome Tools menu does not actually clear your browsing history. Your browsing history is stored in an SQLite database in the file “History”. Mine was located in Documents and settings, Local Settings, Application data, Google, Chrome, User data, History. There are also files Visited Links and Archived History, which I didn’t inspect. Clicking that “Clear browsing data…” link does not empty that database. Clicking on “History” and clicking “delete History” also does not clear that database.

Since Google has been spending so much energy assuring us that Chrome is a safe and benovolent contribution to the web, I thought I’d help out the cause and highlight this observation on privacy issues.

Personally I didn’t like that my Chrome installation automatically imported bookmarks and such from IE and/or Firefox, without asking me if that is what I wanted. I would have said no.

When I launched Chrome I was given a list of “recent” web links which were actually associated with a confidential project from many months ago (not so secret any more, if they are displayed like recommended links in the right side “ad column” of a Google-branded browser window). Oh sure it was only for me, and yes it was in my bookmark file, but that’s not the point. I don’t display my bookmark file on the sidebar of my open browser window. I suppose it was a good thing Google did, because it made me wonder “how did THAT get in there?

Chrome is a very interesting project, and I can see why Google built it and why they may have been eager to release it today. But as with all things Google, be careful. That’s not conspiracy thinking, and if anyone suggests it is, trust them even less.

By the way just delete that database file and Google will make a new (empty) one the next time you launch Chrome.

Update: in the comments, a few people noted that the bookmark import is an option. I checked and confirmed it is an option to turn off the import from IE, but it is turned on by default.

Update: When I uninstalled Google Chrome, it sent data to Google that may be reporting on my operating system (“crversion=0.2.149.27&os=5.1.2600” ). I’m not sure what crversion and os mean to Google in this context (Adobe uses crversion for “crash report version”).

Update: I notice that the history database that is not deleted when you tell Chrome to forget the history, is also not deleted when you uninstall Google Chrome.

Update: I wonder how I can actually download Chrome? The button at google.com/chrome says “download” but it actually launches an installer app. When I cancelled that process (since I already had Chrome installed), Firefox crashed. I just wanted to download Google Chrome, not install it again.

Update: Chrome Privacy Guard clears Google’s stored user ID everytime you use chrome. I haven’t looked at the source code.

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16 Responses to “Google Chrome and Your Privacy”

  1. Halfdeck Says:

    “Personally I didn’t like that my Chrome installation automatically imported bookmarks”

    During installation, I see an option to disable imports by clicking on the “Customize your Settings” link.

  2. mark Says:

    I too was given the option of importing (or not importing) Firefox or IE bookmarks, etc. during installation. I still cannot locate the History file though - only the cache. C:\Users\Family\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\Cache What is the full name of the file (including extension)? Searched for all files with “History” in the name but still couldn’t find it.

  3. Matt Cutts Says:

    What Halfdeck and mark said; you can choose when you install Chrome whether to import bookmarks and such from Firefox/IE.

    @Matt: I uninstalled Google Chrome and re-installed to check what I missed, and yes there is a statement that it will import the bookmarks unless I click the “customize” link and change that. It defaults to importing IE bookmarks if you don’t customize anything. I also checked my hard drive, and after uninstalling Chrome, the history files are still there as are the preference settings. When I re-installed, those settings were adopted by the new install.

    I also notice that an uninstall causes a request to be sent to www.google.com with some information passed along, including
    crversion=0.2.149.27&os=5.1.2600” which I assume is data about my computer setup?

  4. IncrediBILL Says:

    You must be drinking too much coffee John because I followed your example and lost all my Bookmarks. That’s right John, the HISTORY file contains the BOOKMARKS, a stupid name but that’s what’s in there. I pulled the file out of the trash and VOILA! got my Bookmarks back.

    The real history appears to be in the Archived History file and the dated versions that roll over every day.

    I then used their clear data function, which zapped all the Archived History files, then examined the History database with a binary file viewer and searched for specific unique site names that I searched for right before clearing the data and it was clean as a whistle.

    Homework John, you gotta go your homework…

  5. john andrews Says:

    @incredibill: I’m not spending any more time on this, and you may be correct… I don’t know. If they call the bookmarks “history” and don’t clear that “history” when you tell it to clear your “browsing data”, and if those bookmarks were automatically imported form an old version of IE I haven’t deliberately used to store bookmarks, then it is possible that the URLs I saw were not browsing history but misplaced bookmarks. What a mess!

    It makes better sense if the History file is the bookmark file, but I don’t care any more.

    As for your suggestion that I need to do my homework, I agree that if I am going to trust a Google app I need to do my homework. If you read what I wrote above, you’ll see I only described what I saw and what the app did… and I didn’t get it wrong. As I stated:

    “Since Google has been spending so much energy assuring us that Chrome is a safe and benovolent contribution to the web, I thought I’d help out the cause and highlight this observation on privacy issues.”

    Like I did with Gmail, I’ll let you guys with more free time than me use it and “see how it goes”.

  6. Steven Fox Says:

    Right on. You got it exactly right. It was only 1/2 baked. I HATED the import of my bookmarks too.

  7. sc Says:

    It seems to me crversion means Chrome Version, because the number you quote (0.2.149.27) is also what you see when you type about:version in Chrome’s address field.

    @sc: yes, there’s even documentation about it and the user agent now. The user agent identifies chrome and webkit versions.

  8. James Boyer Chatham NJ Says:

    I think that they would have been wise to have made you click yes at every thing they installed. I am also not to happy with what I have read about the security risks that google has yet to address.

  9. whatever Says:

    Google cares only about Google and will reap every bit of personal data from you that it can.

  10. Not Happy Says:

    I really do not like the fact that Google list the “Recent Bookmarks” on the right side of G. Chrome’s home page. If I choose the option NOT to import all my bookmarks from IE to Chrome during installation, it still lists the new ones I make. YES, I have read the advice of others on where to go to wipe my history out in Windows Explorer, but I don’t want to have to do that every single time I browse. And since when is a recent list of bookmarks been anyone’s wish?

    Google should at least understand that sometimes people have to share computers. Most people won’t take the time to go into documents and settings to see what their acquaintances have been looking at - if the history has only been wiped out on the Chrome home page only, unless they are nosey and/or spying for a legitimate reason. The fact that most people won’t spy on their friends and are adult about things, is negated every single time they open up that home page. I learned how to wipe out the “most visited pages” thumbnails, but that damn “recent bookmarks” list on the right side of the page is always there no matter what I do. You can’t just right-click and delete a bookmark’s History. Of course, one can get that ‘bookmark choosing history’ off the list by deleting the actual bookmark itself. THAT will take it out of the list. But what if I don’t want to delete the bookmark?? All I want to do is get rid of that damn list of recent bookmarks, or selectively delete them at will.

    As I said before, since when is a recent list of bookmarks been anyone’s wish? Why does Google feel that this was such a necessary thing? I’ve never felt the need for it, and have never heard anyone wishing for something like it. We KNOW where our bookmarks are, and know when we chose them - especially if it was recently. We don’t need a reminder list. Now, I understand that even if I were to delete everything off of that home page including bookmarks, a user can still go into documents and settings and find what they’re looking for. But as for the average person who shares a computer, they don’t bother doing that because they feel like they are snooping. By adding those recent bookmarks to a list, Google automatically forces people to view other peoples surfing history. AGAIN, why did Google make it impossible (at the browser level) to delete the HISTORY of most recent bookmarks, while at the same time making it very easy to delete surfing history and the thumbnails that are displayed? What is with that damn history of most recent bookmarks? It is very aggravating.

    When the polished-up version is made available, I’ll give it a chance as long as there is an option to delete “recent bookmarks”, or that list is NOT made readily available for everyone to see as soon as they open up the browser. Other than the things I complained about, I like Chrome’s operation. It moves quickly, and I like it’s less cluttered layout. I like the fact that tabs are independent of each other, making it easy to “X” one out if it freezes up, without affecting the other tabs. I also like the way it lays certain web pages out, as opposed to IE. I like the automatic spell-check when typing in boxes such as this one, even though it doesn’t always work in this Beta version. Taking everything into consideration here, at this time, Google Chrome seems to be nicely suited for someone’s personal laptop or their personal computer. But Chrome is not good at all for a computer that two or more people share, simply for the reasons I spoke of earlier. I hope the official version has more privacy options, or I will not install it.

  11. Not Happy Says:

    Oh, I realize too that I was speaking more as a simple website browser as opposed to a “techie”, and that my rantings may not fit well with the people who frequent this site. I simply was searching for a way to delete my “recent bookmarks”, and came across this review. While I was here I figured I should put my two cents in too, even if it was long and drawn out. Sorry.

  12. supherb Says:

    Not sure if this has already been mentioned, but…

    When you do a “Clear browsing data” action and then hit the ‘back arrow’ (upper left icon to go to previous pages), nothing is deleted! It clicks right through all previously visited pages. If this is not “browsing data”, what is?! Where is this info being stored?

    Google, you need to clear this shit up!

  13. Philip Says:

    In terms of ease of use Chrome knocks the socks off IE, FireFox and most definitely Opera, so it annoys me that we’re having these privacy issues. I set up Chrome to launch in “incognito” mode and also disabled logging, metrics and metrics-reporting. But I have to be honest, I still did not trust that those steps would ensure that my privacy was being protected. I could not get Chrome Privacy Guard to work. The installation would crash.

    @Philip: I agree. Chromeis simpler and thus easier…but convenience is what Google barters for control. I run Privacy Guard but I still “know” there is data gathering underway. I don’t use Chrome as my daily browser.

  14. ed Says:

    I’m outta here!

  15. Eddie Says:

    As the last commenter replied, Google runs on revenue generated from demographic research. Getting ease of use for loss of privacy is no fare trade. It almost seems the same as trading liberty for security. Both, in the end you get neither.

  16. naz Says:

    i want to see 9th December 2009 whole history.which is deleted by my brother

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