Spotlight: Privacy with Chrome

Posted August 7th, 2017 at 9:04 am.

Earlier this year, LITS changed the recommended campus browser to Chrome.  In our announcement, we said:

“As you may know, we are often cautious about Google’s products given the large volume of information that they gather and retain about Internet users and customers of their many services.  As Chrome has matured, Google has provided us better options to help maintain privacy and minimize tracking.”

In this spotlight, we thought we’d talk about the settings we recommended (and why) and some additional ways you can stay safe while using Chrome.

Security and Privacy Settings

In our Recommended Settings, we suggest you turn on and off a number of options.

In the Privacy and Security section, we advise turning many things off.  At first read, these sound as if they might be helpful, and they can be.  However, using an external service to help you with anything on the Internet, requires sending your browser data to that service. That service can potentially store that data (identified by your IP, cookies, or other personal information and use it to target you.  Typically this is for something as seemingly innocuous as advertising, but this information could be subpoenaed or used to target you in other ways.

We also recommend you do not allow your location to be tracked, for very similar reasons.  Other than these the only defaults we ask you to change are for your increased usability with Bryn Mawr Services.  Other defaults require asking for access to your computer and devices and are set at a safe level.  Remember to read popup windows and ask us if you have any questions.

If you want to further understand privacy settings, or content settings, see Google’s help for Chrome.

Not sure why your Internet privacy is important?  Get perspectives from experts!

  • Why You Should Care About and Defend Your Privacy – “So while the government and businesses are both scrambling to collect as much information as they can, you should have serious reservations about whether the data is being kept securely, what rights you have after the fact to remove personally identifiable information should be it collected, and how that information is being used by other groups you didn’t sign an agreement with once you give it up to the one you did.”
  • Why Does Privacy Matter? One Scholar’s Answer – “Privacy is not just something we enjoy. It is something that is necessary for us to: develop who we are; form an identity that is not dictated by the social conditions that directly or indirectly influence our thinking, decisions, and behaviors; and decide what type of society we want to live in. Whether we like it or not constant data collection about everything we do — like the kind conducted by Facebook and an increasing number of other companies — shapes and produces our actions. We are different people when under surveillance than we are when enjoying some privacy. “
  • Why We Care about Privacy – “Privacy is important for a number of reasons. Some have to do with the consequences of not having privacy. People can be harmed or debilitated if there is no restriction on the public’s access to and use of personal information. Other reasons are more fundamental, touching the essence of human personhood. Reverence for the human person as an end in itself and as an autonomous being requires respect for personal privacy. To lose control of one’s personal information is in some measure to lose control of one’s life and one’s dignity. Therefore, even if privacy is not in itself a fundamental right, it is necessary to protect other fundamental rights.”
  • AAUP Report on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications – ” Efforts to protect privacy in electronic communications are an important instrument for ensuring professional autonomy and breathing space for freedom in the classroom and for the freedom to inquire. Although privacy is framed as an individual right, group or associational privacy is also important to academic freedom and to ensuring a culture of trust at an institution.”
  • Why privacy is important, and having “nothing to hide” is irrelevant“Loss of privacy leads to loss of freedom. Your freedom of expression is threatened by the surveillance of your internet usage – thought patterns and intentions can be extrapolated from your website visits (rightly or wrongly), and the knowledge that you are being surveilled can make you less likely to research a particular topic. You lose that perspective, and your thought can be pushed in one direction as a result. Similarly, when the things you write online, or communicate privately to others, are surveilled, and you self-censor as a result, the rest of us lose your perspective, and the development of further ideas is stifled. Your freedom of association is threatened by the surveillance of your communications online and by phone, and your freedom of assembly is threatened by the tracking of your location by your mobile phone. Can we afford to risk the benefits of free association, the social change brought by activists and campaigners, or the right to protest?”
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation: PrivacyNew technologies are radically advancing our freedoms, but they are also enabling unparalleled invasions of privacy. National and international laws have yet to catch up with the evolving need for privacy that comes with new digital technologies. Respect for individuals’ autonomy, anonymous speech, and the right to free association must be balanced against legitimate concerns like law enforcement. “
  • Didn’t Read Those Terms of Service? Here’s What You Agreed to Give Up” even careful users may not be aware that sites where they post their status updates, photos, videos, fiction or digital art may be able to repurpose that content, using it for marketing or remixing it with other people’s submissions and republishing it.”

 

Additional Thoughts for Those with Google Accounts

Even if all of your Chrome settings are set for extreme privacy, Google (and providers of other free accounts) may still be tracking you.  Your browser settings do not also change what Google tracks while you are logged in (and sometimes when you aren’t).  The easiest way to get a handle on your Google security and privacy is by starting with the Google Privacy Checkup tool.  It’s not a bad idea to also run the Google Security Checkup.  If you want to dig in further, go to https://myaccount.google.com and take a look at all the available settings.  Remember that no matter how good something sounds, if it “remembers,” “shares,” or “uses” your information, it is storing it somewhere beyond your reach and you need to think carefully about the value of that feature.

Other accounts and Android phones

Android phones are founts of data to Google.  Be cautious, and learn about your settings options.

Google is not alone in the world of tracking moguls.  Facebook is notable in its work in this area, with a reputation for selling and sharing its customers’ data, sometimes even that which they believe is private.  Other companies, both within and outside the US are also working to exploit the wealth of consumer and private data in your browsing. Limit your accounts to minimize tracking and information sharing.

Do not assume you need to be logged in to be identified.  If you have previously used an account on a machine or your browsing history was moved or synced to a new machine, you’ve given it your fingerprint and your data can be aggregated together with your tracked data while logged in. Consider using ad and/or tracking blockers (be aware that these may inhibit some legitimate functions of websites, and may disadvantage smaller sites which survive on ads), a terms of service checker, and a non-tracking search engine.

Chrome Incognito Mode

Most browsers have a “private” browsing mode, like Chrome’s Incognito windows.  This is designed both to keep your computer clean of traces from your browsing, and if necessary to give you a “safe mode” — a way to access a page free of extensions and caching issues.  Using private browsing affects what is stored on your local computer.  It does not affect what is transmitted to or stored on remote servers which you may access via Web sites.  It is not safe to use private browsing in place of other security.

Learn more at https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95464.

Think before saying OK

Your browser has warnings and security to protect you.  Sites may ask for control of your camera, microphone, and other parts of your computer.  You may also be asked to download harmful attachments.  Read all warnings carefully and proceed with caution or you may place yourself and your data (and identity) at risk.

If you have any question at all, you should not proceed, or should contact the Help Desk (x7440, help@brynmawr.edu) for further assistance.

Additional Reading

 

Filed under: Announcements Tags: by Amy Pearlman

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