recently I ’ ve been investigating the secret animation of my data, running experiments to see what engineering very gets up to under the cover of privacy policies that cipher reads. It turns out, having the earth ’ s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about arsenic smart as letting kids run a candy workshop. It made me decide to ditch Chrome for a new version of nonprofit organization Mozilla ’ s Firefox, which has default privacy protections. Switching involved less trouble than you might imagine. ad My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal datum caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my background, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “ cookies ” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my calculator but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality. Chrome welcomed trackers evening at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid web site fixed cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the policy and lend service ’ s log in pages. And that ’ s not the half of it. expect in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a photograph or a name in the traffic circle ? If sol, you ’ re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web bodily process to target ads. Don ’ metric ton recall sign in ? I didn ’ t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail. Chrome is even sneakier on your call. If you use android, Chrome sends Google your localization every time you conduct a search. ( If you turn off placement sharing it still sends your coordinates out, precisely with less accuracy. ) ad Firefox international relations and security network ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate arrant — it distillery defaults searches to Google and permits some other track. But it doesn ’ t share browsing data with Mozilla, which isn ’ triiodothyronine in the data-collection commercial enterprise. At a minimum, Web spy can be annoying. Cookies are how a match of pants you look at in one site end up following you around in ads elsewhere. More basically, your Web history — like the color of your underpants — ain ’ triiodothyronine cipher ’ second business but your own. Letting anyone collect that data leaves it ripe for abuse by bullies, spies and hackers. Google ’ s merchandise managers told me in an consultation that Chrome prioritizes privacy choices and controls, and they ’ re working on new ones for cookies. But they besides said they have to get the veracious balance with a “ healthy Web ecosystem ” ( read : ad business ). Firefox ’ s product managers told me they don ’ thymine see privacy as an “ choice ” relegated to controls. They ’ ve launched a war on surveillance, starting this month with “ enhanced tracking protection ” that blocks nosy cookies by default on fresh Firefox installations. But to succeed, first Firefox has to persuade people to care enough to overcome the inactiveness of switching. It ’ s a fib of two browsers — and the diverge interests of the companies that make them .
The cookie fight
A decade ago, Chrome and Firefox were taking on Microsoft ’ s lumbering giant Internet Explorer. The nouveau-riche Chrome solved real problems for consumers, making the Web safe and fast. today it dominates more than half the market. ad recently, however, many of us have realized that our privacy is besides a major concern on the Web — and Chrome ’ s interests no longer constantly seem aligned with our own. That ’ s most visible in the contend over cookies. These code snippets can do helpful things, like remembering the contents of your shopping cart. But immediately many cookies belong to data companies, which use them to tag your browser so they can follow your way like crumbs in the proverbial forest. They ’ re everywhere — one report found third-party tracking cookies on 92 percentage of websites. The Washington Post web site has approximately 40 tracker cookies, modal for a news site, which the company said in a statement are used to deliver better-targeted ads and track ad performance. You ’ ll besides find them on sites without ads : Both Aetna and the FSA service said the cookies on their sites help measure their own external market campaigns. The blame for this fix belongs to the entire advertising, print and technical school industries. But what duty does a browser have in protecting us from code that international relations and security network ’ metric ton doing much more than spy ? In 2015, Mozilla debuted a version of Firefox that included anti-tracking technical school, turned on lone in its “ secret ” browsing manner. After years of testing and fine-tune, that ’ s what it activated this calendar month on all websites. This international relations and security network ’ triiodothyronine about blocking ads — those calm come through. Rather, Firefox is parsing cookies to decide which ones to keep for critical web site functions and which ones to block for detection. ad Apple ’ s Safari browser, used on iPhones, besides began applying “ intelligent tracking protection ” to cookies in 2017, using an algorithm to decide which ones were bad. Chrome, sol far, remains candid to all cookies by default. end calendar month, Google announced a new campaign to force third-party cookies to better self-identify, and said we can expect new controls for them after it rolls out. But it wouldn ’ t offer a timeline or say whether it would default to stopping trackers. I ’ thousand not holding my breath. Google itself, through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, is the No. 1 cookie manufacturer — the Mrs. Fields of the Web. It ’ second difficult to imagine Chrome ever cutting off Google ’ south moneymaker.
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“ Cookies play a role in user privacy, but a narrow-minded focus on cookies obscures the broader privacy discussion because it ’ s merely one way in which users can be tracked across sites, ” said Ben Galbraith, Chrome ’ s conductor of product management. “ This is a complex problem, and bare, numb cookie blocking solutions pull tracking into more opaque practices. ” There are early tracking techniques — and the privacy arms race will get harder. But saying things are besides complicated is besides a way of not doing anything. ad “ Our point of view is to deal with the biggest trouble first, but anticipate where the ecosystem will shift and work on protecting against those things a well, ” said Peter Dolanjski, Firefox ’ s product lead. Both Google and Mozilla said they ’ rhenium working on fighting “ fingerprint, ” a way to sniff out other markers in your computer. Firefox is already testing its capabilities and plans to activate them soon .
Making the switch over
Choosing a browser is no longer just about amphetamine and appliance — it ’ s besides about data defaults. It ’ randomness true that Google normally obtains consent before gathering data, and offers a bunch of knob you can adjust to opt out of tracking and target advertise. But its controls much feel like a shell game that results in us sharing more personal data. I felt hoodwinked when Google softly began signing Gmail users into Chrome survive descend. Google says the Chrome shift didn ’ thyroxine induce anybody ’ mho browsing history to be “ synced ” unless they specifically opted in — but I found mine was being sent to Google and don ’ thyroxine recall ever asking for excess surveillance. ( You can turn off the Gmail auto-login by searching “ Gmail ” in Chrome settings and switching off “ Allow Chrome sign-in. ” ) After the sign-in shift, Johns Hopkins consociate professor Matthew Green made waves in the calculator science world when he blogged he was done with Chrome. “ I lost faith, ” he told me. “ It lone takes a few bantam changes to make it identical privacy unfriendly. ” There are ways to defang Chrome, which is much more complicate than good using “ Incognito Mode. ” But it ’ s a lot easier to switch to a browser not owned by an advertise company. ad Like Green, I ’ ve choose Firefox, which works across phones, tablets, PCs and Macs. Apple ’ mho Safari is besides a good option on Macs, iPhones and iPads, and the niche Brave browser goes even further in trying to jam the ad-tech diligence. What does switching to Firefox price you ? It ’ randomness dislodge, and downloading a different browser is much simpler than changing phones. In 2017, Mozilla launched a new adaptation of Firefox called Quantum that made it well faster. In my tests, it has felt about as fast as Chrome, though benchmark tests have found it can be slower in some context. Firefox says it ’ s better about managing memory if you use lots and lots of tabs. Switching means you ’ ll have to move your bookmarks, and Firefox offers tools to help. Shifting passwords is easy if you use a password director. And most browser add-ons are available, though it ’ second potential you won ’ triiodothyronine find your favorite. ad Mozilla has challenges to overcome. Among privacy advocates, the nonprofit is known for caution. It took a year farseeing than Apple to make cookie blocking a default. And as a nonprofit organization, it earns money when people make searches in the browser and chatter on ads — which means its biggest source of income is Google. Mozilla ’ mho chief administrator says the company is exploring newly paid privacy services to diversify its income. Its biggest risk is that Firefox might someday run out of steam in its struggle with the Chrome colossus. even though it ’ s the No. 2 desktop browser, with about 10 percentage of the market, major sites could decide to drop support, leaving Firefox beat. If you care about privacy, let ’ s hope for another David and Goliath result .
Dig profoundly : New Technology + Privacy
Want to explore the impact of new technology on our privacy? Check out our curated list of stories below. ad An Oregon sheriff ’ s department became the first law enforcement agency in the nation to use Amazon ’ s facial-recognition software, running 1,000 searches in a year to help solve crimes. But experts fear it could increase wrongful arrests. H ow businesses commercialize surveillance software to schools There is no proof that facial-recognition software can prevent school shootings, yet companies are building sales pitches to schools around the promise of keeping children condom from school shooters. Our technical school reviewer found more than 11,000 requests in a workweek for trackers from websites in Google Chrome. The browser even welcomed trackers from websites you would think were secret, like Aetna and the Federal Student Aid web site. Read more tech advice and analysis from Geoffrey A. Fowler:
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