Google changes Chrome after privacy flap

  • Critics slammed Google after it made changes to its popular Chrome browser that would automatically sign a user in if they wanted to use any other Google service, like Gmail.
  • In response, the company is making it possible to once again use Chrome without signing into the browser.
  • One of the people who vocally criticized the company says that although he's glad Google is listening to feedback, he's still switching to Firefox.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai takes the stage during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco on Oct. 4, 2016.
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters
Google CEO Sundar Pichai takes the stage during the presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco on Oct. 4, 2016.

Google is making changes to its popular Chrome browser in response to criticism from privacy advocates.

The company came under fire earlier this week because of a recent Chrome update that automatically signs users into the browser if they use any other Google services. Previously, it was possible to use Chrome to sign in to a service like Gmail without actually logging into the browser itself.

Google said that it made this change because users who shared devices might otherwise think that they had signed out of Chrome when they actually had not, thus potentially "leaking" data, like passwords stored in the browser, across accounts.

However, critics said that the update was executed poorly (in part because it initially logged users into Chrome without their consent), could confuse people into unwittingly sharing more data with Google than they meant to, and made Chrome a less neutral platform to surf the web.

Cryptographer and Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute assistant professor Matthew Green highlighted all of these issues on his Twitter account and then in a blog post titled "Why I'm Done with Chrome," which gained widespread attention on Monday.

Google addressed some of these concerns in a blog post late Tuesday titled "Product updates based on your feedback." In the next iteration of Chrome it will tweak how the sign-in process works so that it will once again be possible to log into a Google service without logging into the browser. Users can disable the automatic sign-in in their privacy and security settings:

This change will be available in mid-October, when Google launches its next version of Chrome.

Google will also redesign the user interface that asks whether or not it can sync a users Chrome data with their Google account. If a user is signed into Chrome, it tracks information like the sites they visit and their tabs, and users can choose whether or not to link that data to their broader Google account.

Green and others criticized the fact that Chrome's current interface doesn't make it clear whether whether a user is sending their data back to Google or not.

Here's what the syncing interface currently looks like:

Here's what it will look like in the next Chrome update:

Despite these changes, Green tells CNBC that he still plans to switch to internet browser Firefox.

"On the one hand, I'm glad that Google is paying attention," he said. "On the other, this 'opt-out' feature requires users to click a button located deep in the settings menus. That's OK for techies like me. But I doubt that, say, my parents will be able to take advantage of it. So objectively, it seems like this still leaves 99 percent of users worse of than they were before Google made these changes."