Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Yes and no. Logging into Chrome allows you to use your settings on other computers. Your browsing history is another matter.

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.

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.

Article C5929 - October 18, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
Duane
October 20, 2012 3:11 PM

Wow, I've never gone to history.google.com before. Kinda scary!

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