In an apparent offensive move against Google, Microsoft released an online video this week on its TechNet Edge blog, claiming that Google's Chrome web browser "is stealing your privacy." Narrated by Peter LePage, product manager for the Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, the video shows how Chrome "collects every keystroke you make," unlike Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), which "keeps your information private." Is this simply a smear by Microsoft, or do Chrome users have reasons for concern? Following, a concise guide to the web browser privacy issue:
How does Google Chrome track what users type?
By instantly sending whatever they enter into Chrome's combination search box-web address bar to Google. This means that, even if you don't intend to actually search for a certain term or visit a particular website, Google "knows" what you've typed, even if you don't hit the "enter" key. "The information is being sent so that the search provider can help the user choose a query right in their browser," says Emil Protalinski in Ars Technica.
How is Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser different?
According to Microsoft's LePage, Internet Explorer 8 doesn't have this privacy issue because it separates the web address bar and the search box. "By keeping these boxes separate," says LePage, "your privacy is better protected and the addresses of the sites you're visiting aren't automatically shared with Microsoft, or anyone else."
Are Microsoft's claims true?
Yes and no. While anything you type in Chrome's search-web address field is sent to Google, anything typed into Internet Explorer's search box — but not the separate web address bar — is also sent to Google, Bing or whatever search engine you've selected to use in your browser.
Is there any way to prevent this from happening?
Yes. Most web browsers have a "private mode," which blocks all search history or other personal information from being recorded, allowing you to surf the web without leaving a digital track. IE's privacy feature is called "InPrivate," Chrome's is dubbed "Incognito." (Firefox and Opera also have similar privacy modes.)