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Is my browser tracking me?

Google Chrome always prompts me to sign in using my Google account, so that I
won’t miss out on all their features. If I login, and whenever I add some
add-on from the Chrome web store to my Chrome’s homepage, it tells me that the
add-on will be monitoring my browser activity. So, can I keep myself logged
into Chrome whenever I use it? Is my browser activity being watched?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #62
, I look at the difference between having your browsing
tracked by Google and logging into Chrome with your Google account.

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Chrome monitoring activity

So, there are a couple of things that are going on here that I think are being
kind of confused.

One is when you login to Chrome (in other words, when you login to your
browser, not a site, not Google, not anything, but the browser itself is asking
you to login using your Google account), what it’s doing is it is keeping a
record of your bookmarks, your add-ons, and those kinds of personalizations. So,
if you were to go to a different machine (and also run Chrome and login to
Chrome using your Google account) then those kinds of things would
automatically appear on that other machine – on that other Google Chrome
instance.

That’s what they’re using the Google account for. That’s why they’re asking
you to login to it because if you don’t (and you don’t have to by any stretch;
you don’t have to login to this thing)… but if you don’t, then you don’t get
that kind of cross-machine feature that automatically handles things like your
bookmarks and so forth.

Is Chrome tracking you?

Now, is Google Chrome tracking you? Is your browser activity being
watched?

Well, yes and no.

So, what I’m going to have you do is go to History.Google.com. I think
what you’ll find there will probably surprise you.

When you are logged into your Google account (and it’s not your browser,
it’s just you on your Google account), you’re using Google servers, you’re
using Google services – Google keeps track of what you searched for, what
pages in the search results you clicked on, and so on – and you can see all
that by going to History.Google.com.

Turn off Google history

Now, this kind of freaks a lot of people out and the first thing they want
to do of course is turn it off.

Well, you can and you can’t. You can use the options there to turn off
Google History. The problem is all that really does is turn off the
display of the history. Google (like any web service) is still keeping
track of who’s using their service, how they’re using it, what things they are
searching for, what pages they’re clicking on – just to make sure they’re doing
the best job they possibly can in producing relevant search results, or
better understanding the user’s way of using their services.

So, is your browser tracking you? Probably not. Is Google tracking you?
Well, yes. In a way, they really are.

It’s not personal

But it’s not you that they’re tracking. They’re tracking everybody. What
that means is: while they are keeping information about you while you are logged
into your Google account, it’s not like there’s somebody sitting there saying,
“Oh, look at what Leo is doing today!” They’re not.

They’re just not interested in you and me as individuals. What they are
interested in is the actions of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of
people and understanding what those actions imply for their services. The only
way that they can do data analysis on that data is if they have it.

That means that yeah, they kind of have to keep all that information in some
form.

Chrome login is different

So that’s really what’s going on. That’s actually separate from
logging in to Google Chrome and your browser. That is more about logging into
your Google account, from pretty much anywhere, to do anything: be it
Gmail or Calendar or Reader or whatever, or just plain old search.

So those are the things to think about. Those are the things to be aware of.
It’s not, not, not, not something that scares me in the least.

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