That syncing feeling when you realise you may be telling Google more than you thought
Chrome gets a bit less shiny with auto sign-in
Google's Chrome lost more of its shine over the weekend – after the normally calm and reasoned world of Twitter erupted when folks realized the search giant was automatically signing them into its browser.
The change appeared in Chrome 69, which rolled out at the beginning of September and initially occupied users with the revolutionary/repulsive (delete as appropriate) rounded interface, which had been heavily trailed in the preceding months.
As the weeks passed, users have since noted some decidedly more worrying behaviour.
Cryptographer Matthew Green, at Johns Hopkins University in the US, highlighted the problem...
I’m still annoyed that Chrome has gone to mandatory Google login — exactly the same way Android did (and has received enormous criticism for) — and people at Google are acting like they’re surprised people are upset.— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) September 22, 2018
In a nutshell, the situation is that Chrome used to allow users to skip through the World Wide Web without needing to sign into Google's browser services. Sure, in return for signing into Chrome and (optionally) selecting what should be synchronised to Mountain View's servers (including browsing history), users might find things a bit more convenient, but it wasn't mandatory.
Now it is optional no more. Should a user navigate to a Google property (perhaps a rarely used site such as Gmail or YouTube) Chrome will automatically sign the browser into the user's Google account with only a small icon in the top right corner of the window to indicate what has happened.
Google engineers were quick to respond to the protests, insisting that the feature was actually a helpful hint to let users know that they were logged in, and that more action on the part of the user was needed in order to enable Sync and start the data slurp.
Think of it as adding "yo FYI you're currently logged in to Gmail" in the corner of the browser window. That's what the feature does. It's different from the feature you seem to be talking about which we call sync, that has privacy implications.— Adrienne Porter Felt (@__apf__) September 22, 2018
Chrome engineer and manager Adrienne Porter Felt explained further over several posts. The kindly search provider had, of course, its users' best interests at heart and had merely tweaked the UI to make sure users knew they were still signed in – in case they handed their device over to someone else, for example.
Nice, but not enough to calm annoyed users. While it is important to note that what frightened users the most – the slurping of browser history – won't start automatically, the problem is that even if a user has happily been using Chrome throughout its 10-year life while declining the offer to sign in, that option has silently been taken away.
Coupled with an interface that makes it very easy to accidentally enable the slurpage, it seems as though Google has taken one look at Microsoft suggesting that users might prefer Edge, and said "hold my beer".
Google has form in collecting data when the user has asked it not to, and it would be unsurprising if this surreptitious slurpage was eventually extended to the enormous user base of Chrome. But this feature is all about usability, right?
We contacted Google to learn more about its plans, and were directed to Twitter for more information. Great. ®
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