It is common knowledge that websites like to track your activity through cookies, but might we be giving up a bit too much privacy when surfing the web? The answer may depend on the specific browser you are using. In a recent examination of Google Chrome, a tech expert said he uncovered some startling differences in how Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers treat user privacy.
Geoffrey A. Fowler is a technology journalist for The Washington Post. It was there that he posted an opinion piece on why he feels that “Chrome has become surveillance software,” and why he made the switch to Firefox.
His tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on his desktop, he discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto the computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.
Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.
Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)
Firefox isn’t perfect — it still defaults searches to Google and permits some other tracking. But it doesn’t share browsing data with Mozilla, which isn’t in the data-collection business.
Cookies are everywhere — one study found third-party tracking cookies on 92 percent of websites.
Fowler does ultimately concede that there are ways to “defang Chrome,” but contends it is much more complicated than just running Incognito Mode, and that it is ultimately easier to simply switch browsers.