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Google admits Chrome tracks web addresses

By Stuart Turton

Posted on 4 Sep 2008 at 11:48

Google has admitted the auto-suggest feature of Chrome's Omnibox gives it potential access to users' keystrokes, providing the company with a wealth of information on the browsing habits of its users.

"When you type URLs or queries in the address bar, the letters you type are sent to Google so the Suggest feature can automatically recommend terms or URLs you may be looking for," the company notes in its privacy policy.

"If you choose to share usage statistics with Google and you accept a suggested query or URL, Google Chrome will send that information to Google as well. You can disable this feature."

Unlike searching through Google, so long as the user has auto-suggest enabled, and Google set as their default search engine, the Omnibox will grant Google access to search enquiries without the user ever hitting the enter key.

Google says it intends to store about 2% of this information, alongside the IP address of the computer that typed it.

Given that current figures reveal Chrome has already grabbed 1% of the browser market, this could represent a huge amount of information.

Speaking on a blog posting entitled "preventing paranoia", the company attempts to head off any "conspiracy theories" claiming that there a number of simple ways to stop Chrome recording these details.

"For better or worse, my blog is popular with the Google conspiracy-theorist demographic," says Matt Cutts, head of Google's webspam team.

"I knew that as soon as Google Chrome launched, some readers would ask tough questions about privacy and how/when Google Chrome communicates with google.com.

"I talked to the Chrome team to find out if there's anything to worry about. The short answer is no ... I thought it would be better to write down all the communication that happens so that people wouldn't invent conspiracy theories ... Luckily, you can double-check me because the browser is open-source."

Google backs down on EULA

Google has admitted it made a mistake in the original wording of the EULA that accompanied its chrome browser, and amended it.

The original wording essentially gave Google the ability to do whatever it wanted with your content when it was posted through Chrome.

"By submitting, posting or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services," the EULA claimed.

However, the company has now drastically amended this to read: "You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

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