Chrome's Shine Distracts from Privacy Glare?

5 minute read
James Mowery avatar
Within hours of Google Chrome's entry into the Web browser arena, concerns about the browser's privacy and copyright claims within the terms of service echoed throughout blogs and news organizations around the world. With a unique ID embedded in each copy of Chrome, so the grumble goes, Google could use Chrome to harvest huge amounts of behavior data and potentially dramatically erode any remaining semblance of online privacy. This idea has given us pause. Is Chrome a major privacy threat or have the good net citizens of the world been overreacting? It is true that Chrome has some frightening data collection potential. We would also say that Google, being largely in the business of predicting the future, has a considerable interest in acquiring more high quality behavior data. Consider this, Google's AdSense success is largely a factor of three parameters: the quality of their prediction algorithms, the quality of their data and quantity of the data.With that said, the controversy surrounding this browser seems boundless. Chrome is a hot topic -- even the CMSWire crew has been franticly clawing away at it -- and both skeptics and the average folk have been wondering not if, but what information Google will be collecting from its Chrome user base. Some scary sounding copyright language in the Chrome's terms of service added fuel to this fire, but some of these concerns have been addressed already.Here's what Google says about the unique ID:
Your copy of Google Chrome includes one or more unique application numbers. These numbers and information about your installation of the browser (e.g., version number, language) will be sent to Google when you first install and use it and when Google Chrome automatically checks for updates. [Note: Emphasis added.]

Chrome's Terms of Service

The web browser is certainly one of the most important tools on any computer these days. Not only that, but it is likely one of the most used tools to exchange private information.Consequently many concerns have been made public. Concerns have been voiced about how Google is collecting "ammo" for its advertisers and will have a near total view over your Internet experience.But where Google seems to have misstepped is clear. According to the wording of Chrome's previous Terms of Service, a user is potentially allowing Google to see and use most of the content entered into the browser.Allegedly, a news organization in Germany has actually condemned the browser -- stating that it is not secure and that no one single entity should have as much information as Google has. Google's faux pas has not gone unnoticed.

Google Responds to Privacy Concerns

Matt Cutts, Google employee and search engine optimization specialist attempted to clear up the confusion on his personal blog:* Information from surfing the web and clicking on links does not get sent to google.com.* Interacting with the address bar will result in information exchanges with the current search service to try and offer suggestions.* Crash reports and anonymous usage statistics are not sent to Google by default.* If Chrome locates a "very short, stock 404 page (less than 512 bytes)," it will talk to google.com to suggest pages and options.* Chrome will check for automatic updates every 25 hours (and are updated automatically).* Chrome will download a list of 32-bit URL hashes of URLs that are thought to be dangerous.* Chrome will download a spellcheck dictionary when selecting a language.And with all that said and done, Matt Cutts ended with this statement:"To the best of my knowledge, this is the only communication that happens between Google Chrome and google.com."

Google Changes Its Mind

Google made a poor decision when the company decided to go ahead and add their "Universal Terms of Service" to the Google Chrome browser. They claim that they do this to "keep things simple for our users." However, it simply exposes the poor terms of service that Google has us agree to. Why isn't there this same amount of concern over all of Google's products and services?Surely someone at Google must have realized that they were going to be criticized over privacy concerns -- even if these issues with the terms of service were not a reality.After realizing that they would not win if they kept things as they were, Google, on Sept. 3, 2008, decided to change section 11 of the EULA to read as follows:
11. Content license from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.

Chrome Is Safe, For Now

Although caution is always advised, it appears to this author that Google Chrome is safe to use. It is actually an interesting product and people are already making heady predictions surrounding its success.Another point that people have mentioned is that Chrome is fully open source -- developers are free to examine all of the code. If there were any secret communications happening, curious developers hellbent on exposing Google for such practices would likely have accomplished this already. As it stands, no developers have stepped forward to claim something is fishy. There has been an impressive volume of discussion surrounding Chrome since its release. This is good. Google is a behemoth and one that is quite incented to know more about you and your behavior. To think that Chrome will not further this cause in some way is just naive. The question is how and the answer, for now, looks like it's "not in too terrible a way". But with a the potential for a new update every 25 hours, we say it's wise to stay tuned.