Chrome 69 ties Google services with browser login

Donna Miller
September 24, 2018

Google Chrome 69 was released on September 5, more than two weeks ago, and if you haven't been probing the depths of Twitter, Mastodon, or Hacker News, you wouldn't have known of this change in Chrome's behavior.

When Google LLC launched its updated version of Chrome browser, Chrome 69, earlier this month, users were told a lot of small changes would happen all aimed at boosting productivity.

Automatically logging people into browsers potentially creates an unsafe environment on shared devices: Others who use the device may be able to access your account, even when you think you've logged out of the services you just used. If you log into any Google service on that browser, it will automatically log Chrome into the corresponding Google account. This allowed users to surf the web while logged into a Google account but not upload any Chrome browsing data to Google's servers, data that may be tied to their accounts. The profile photo is meant to serve as a reminder to the user that they are signed into a Google service, not the browser.

But a number of security professionals simply weren't buying it.

Matthew Green spotted that Google was logging them into Chrome without their knowledge. And if you're logged off one, you're also logged of both. This is a dark pattern.

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Going a step further, security expert Bálint made the case that Google Chrome is essentially a Google service now as opposed to a separate application that can live on its own without being tied to a Google account.

Green's social media clout, along with some heated Twitter conversations, did manage to push things at Google's headquarters, and Chrome engineers have told Green that Google will clarify Chrome's Privacy Policy to reflect Chrome's new mode of operation.

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.

The issue here is that there's no simple fix.

Chrome is, perhaps by now, the world's top browser in terms of reach. According to StatsCounter, Chrome holds almost 60 percent of the marketshare, so opinions are bound to be all over the place. One blogger who broke down the change in detail wrote, "Google needs to stop treating customer trust like it's a renewable resource, because they're screwing up badly". But there's no doubt Google self-sabotaged whatever its intentions were by keeping mum about it.

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