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Til death do us part: signing out of Google Chrome

For most people using a public computer at a library, school, or friend’s house is just a part of life.  In a crunch, sometimes we may even borrow a stranger’s or pay a terminal fee like at Kinko’s or at the airport.

For many Google Chrome users, however, this practice has become a mortifying public tell-all. Signing into Google while using Chrome on a computer with multiple users leaves your search history, bookmarks, and possibly other even more sensitive information potentially available for others to view who use that same computer.   Checking your Gmail, using Google Docs, logging into your YouTube account, or accessing any Google product that requires a login and password counts as signing in.


The geniuses at Google did not include a way to easily sign out of their popular search engine Chrome.  Go ahead, try.  In fact, Chrome’s default settings are designed to save all of your user information unless you customize the settings.  So what do you do when you go onto someone else’s computer and leave all of your private information behind? This is what Google suggests in its Chrome support FAQ:

“Don’t sign in to Chrome if you’re using a public or untrusted computer. When you set up Chrome with your Google Account, a copy of your data is stored on the computer you’re using and can be accessed by other users on the same computer. To remove your data, delete the user you are signed in as.”

If privacy is your main concern then Google Chrome may not be the best browser for you. If Chrome is your browser of choice, however, then make sure the first thing you do is sign out any others that are logged onto Google, and once you are done don’t forget to delete your search history and sign out of all Google accounts. These safeguards may help prevent disclosing any private or embarrassing information that you could leave behind.

UCC student, Cody Flock, shared the following experience : “I logged into my Gmail account on my dad’s laptop to quickly check my email. Anyways, Chrome mistook me as my dad and used my email for logging into chrome. A few weeks later my dad asked me for help with something online, so I went to help him and noticed that my bookmarks were now showing up on his computer in addition to his own. Needless to say I was shocked to see my personal bookmarks were now open to him. Basically, in the end I had to completely un-install and re-install Chrome on his computer to remove all of my personal information from his computer. Simply logging out didn’t remove my bookmarks, saved passwords or anything. He had access to everything of mine online.”

Thinking about adding another user on your home PC to have some privacy, think again. More from Chrome FAQ.

“The ability to add multiple users to Chrome is intended to provide a quick and simple way to set up personalized copies of Chrome for people who are already sharing Chrome on the same computer today. It isn’t intended to secure your data against other people using your computer. To truly protect your data from being seen by others, please use the built-in user accounts in your operating system of choice.”

If it’s not weird enough for you so far, stay with me.  Go use Google Chrome on a friend’s computer, sign in and check your Gmail, then go home and use Chrome on your computer.  Now check the browsing history.  What you will see is your friend’s browsing history and bookmarks in real time as they are added.  Fun stuff, right? 

Google has taken some heat over other Chrome related issues as well.   There are particular concerns over password safety which Google is kind enough to store for its users; remember Google does not even claim their product is safe. 

But maybe most alarming is the new voice recognition feature that allows users to speak into a computer’s microphone and search through Chrome rather than type.  One major problem which Google has acknowledged is that hackers have been able to find a hole in the software and activate user’s microphones. Yep, Google created a way to listen to your private conversations without you ever knowing, and as the name implies, it knows the sound of your voice and stores it accordingly with all the rest of your information. 

The good news is that you can use the incognito function of the Chrome browser and not be identified as long as you don’t check Gmail, YouTube, or anything else that Google owns; an even better idea may be to not sign into anything period, and, whatever you do, please for god’s sake do not speak around it! 

It’s really not unlike being in a bad relationship with someone who was great in the beginning but then turned into a real controlling creep.  Maybe it’s time to bolt, like they say — it will just get worse.