Google released Wednesday a new version of its Chrome browser that allows you to opt out of a controversial feature that signed you in to the web browser if you logged in to Gmail or other Google websites.
The new version addresses two changes to its predecessor that got Google in hot water when the updated browser arrived in September. One was the addition of data files called cookies that stuck around for Google sites even when you told Google to delete them. The second change logged you in to the browser — though it didn’t synchronize browser data — as soon as you logged in to a Google website.
The cookies are gone now, which means you’ll have to log in to Google sites anew after you’ve cleared cookies. The Chrome sign-in feature is now optional, though enabled by default.
Both changes were intended as conveniences. The browser sign-in feature was useful to avoid inadvertently leaving your own search and browsing history on a borrowed or shared computer. And logging in is always a pain, so who wouldn’t want to make that easier?
But both changes also increased the grip Google has on your online behavior data, information it uses to target ads and track you around the web. The bigger a presence Google has in our lives, the harder it is to maintain online privacy. Google has a crack security team working to prevent unauthorized data breaches, but most of us give up plenty of information to tech giants like Facebook and Google without batting an eyelid.
The Chrome changes triggered criticism from Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins University professor and cryptography expert, and Christoph Tavan, chief technology officer at ContentPass. Others including rival browser makers chimed in on Twitter, Reddit and Hacker News. The pressure convinced Google it had gone a step to far.
Chrome 70 introduces some other features, too:
- It expands progressive web app support from mobile devices, where they got their start, to Windows-based personal computers, too. The PWA technology lets programmers package websites into standalone apps that continue to function even without a network connection. MacOS and Linux support is underway.
- It’s got new authentication technology that lets website developers use fingerprint readers and hardware tokens to make login processes more secure.
- On personal computers, Chrome 70 supports video encoded with AV1, a from Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon and others designed to squeeze video for better streaming without the patent expense of rival format HEVC.
However, AV1 is in its early days and has no hardware support. It takes a lot of computing power to decode. You can enable it with YouTube’s TestTube if you want to try it out. Firefox already supports AV1, too.