Every time you launch your browser to look at the web. Do you know that someone is looking after you?
Over a current week of Web surfing, I peered under the covering of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the web.
This was made possible by the web’s biggest spy of all: Google. Seen from the inside, it’s Google Chrome browser looks like a bunch surveillance software.
Most recently, I’ve been looking at the undisclosed life of my data, consecutively experiments to see what technology really is up to under the cover of privacy policies that nobody reads.
It made me decide to ditch Google Chrome for a new version of non-profit Mozilla Firefox, which has default privacy protections. Switching involved less inconvenience than you might imagine.
My tests of Google Chrome versus Mozilla Firefox unearthed a personal data jaunt of ridiculous proportions. Surfing on my desktop throughout a week, I find out 11, 189 requests for follower that chrome would have shown right onto my computer, but were automatically blocked-up by Firefox. These files act as a trap to the data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income, and personality.
Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you’d think would be private. I watched the Federal Student and Aetna Aid website cookies for facebook and Google. They secretly told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in-pages.
And that’s not the half of it.
Take a look in the upper right corner of your Chrome Browser. Sees a picture or a name in the circle? If yes, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t evoke signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome just started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.
Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends your location to Google every time you perform a search. Firefox isn’t ideal – it still defaults searches to Google and allows some other tracking. But it doesn’t split browsing data with Mozilla, which isn’t in the data-collection business.
At least, Web prying can be disturbing. Cookies are how a pair of pants you look at in one site end up following you around in ads somewhere else. Basically, Web history– is nobody’s business but your own. Allowing anyone to collect that data leaves it ready for mistreated by bullies, spies, and hackers.
Firefox’s product managers told me that they don’t see privacy as a “choice” related to controls. They’ve started a war on inspection, starting this month with “improved tracking protection” that blocks inquisitive cookies automatically on new Firefox installations. But to be successful, first Firefox has to persuade people to enough care to overcome the inactivity of switching.