A while ago I posted an article on Data Privacy Day. Out of that article, several readers requested recommendations on privacy settings for Google Chrome. As much as I would love to tell readers to lock down everything and shut down the great Google data collection, privacy is a very personal thing. One person may be willing to give up functionality of their tools to ensure their private information stays private, while another is just fine with all knowing Google collecting their data if it means their life is easier. In short, I cannot tell you wonderful people what to lock down. Each one of you has to make that decision for yourselves.
That said, I can tell you what settings to check and where they are currently located. Google, just like most other service providers, likes to make them hard to find. A cynical person would say that was done on purpose. I have decided to be more positive today and I am going to blame poor interface design… I am trying here. Work with me.
Decide how your browsing history is used in Chrome
Most of the privacy goodies are hidden under Settings>Sync and Google Services. The first stop should be Control how your browsing history is used to personalize Search, ads and more. Click on the little square next to this monster and you find the Activity Controls.
At first glance, all you see is Web & App Activity. Scroll down a bit and click the See all activity controls link to find the motherload.
These settings determine how much functionality you want from Chrome vs how much data you want to keep from their prying eyes. It may take a few tries to find the right balance for you. Don’t be afraid to turn on some controls. You can always turn them off if they are making your life difficult. Personally I prefer to give them as little information as possible and find things on my own. I don’t like to be fed my content. You can stumble upon some pretty interesting stuff when you don’t have someone curating your content for you. However, that might not be your jam. Totally okay.
Further down the Sync and Google Services page, there are some other settings that you should check. Do you want to help Google be a better service, or send them your URLS or the text you type into the browser? Once again, try turning them off and see what happens to the functionality of Chrome.
Decide how you will be tracked
Cookies are used by websites to identify you for a variety of reasons. Some of them are useful like keeping track of what is in your shopping cart. Others are more concerning like tracking what you click on. As with all browsers, Chrome lets you decide what types of cookies are okay and which are to be disabled or blocked.
Chrome’s cookie settings can be found in Settings>Cookies and other data. I do not recommend selecting Allow all cookies or Block all cookies. However you may want to experiment with Blocking third party cookies.
Another setting you can consider is the Send a “do not track” request with your browsing traffic. As it suggests, it simply sends a request to a website that you not be tracked. How they respond to the request depends on the website. However, I feel better knowing that I have at least asked for some privacy. The odds that they honor that request are probably pretty slim. There I go being all cynical again. Sorry, I slipped.
Cover your tracks
Your browsing history including cookies, cached pages and autofill data can be cleared out manually or you can set it up to perform a cleaning at regular intervals. Ideally things should be cleaned out once a week, however the best cleaning interval for you depends on how you work. Do be aware that if you clean out cookies regularly, it may mean you have to re-enter things on sites over and over again. As with the other settings, experiment with it to find what works best for you. You can find these settings under Settings>Clear Browsing data.
Even if you try out these settings and decide to not enable any of them, that’s perfectly okay. The important thing is you are aware of them and know how to change them. You are taking control and making decisions about your privacy instead of having them made for you.
Unfortunately, account providers regularly change their privacy settings and Google is no different. The information in this article may be out of date in a week, a month or tomorrow. Therefore, I suggest that every quarter you take a look at your privacy settings and make sure they are still at a comfortable level. A little proactivity goes a long way when maintaining your privacy.