Is using Google's Enhanced Safe Browsing mode worth it?

The mode has its positives and its drawbacks

A view of various Google apps on a phone.
Is Google's Enhanced Safe Browsing mode worth the privacy trade-off?
(Image credit: Chesnot / Getty Images)

Cybersecurity is increasingly a focus of the tech industry these days, and Google is trying to get ahead of the game with a feature called "Enhanced Safe Browsing." This feature was first introduced in 2020 for the company's tentpole web browser, Google Chrome, and is described by the company as a way to "substantially increase protection from dangerous websites and downloads." This month, Google's email platform, Gmail, also started pushing users to implement the feature.

Enhanced Safe Browsing works by sharing "additional security data directly with Google Safe Browsing to enable more accurate threat assessments," according to Google. It then compares a user's browsing data from Google Chrome and Gmail with a list of known scammers, so that "when an attack is detected against your browser or account, Safe Browsing can tailor its protections to your situation." However, given that using Enhanced Safe Browsing requires sharing large quantities of data with the company, is it worth it to give yourself another level of protection against cyber-attacks? Or are people better off foregoing this extra security in favor of keeping their data private?

It can help keep people safe online

The protections of Enhanced Safe Browsing "certainly help keep you safer online," Zachary McAuliffe reported for CNET. The mode allows Google to "check in real-time whether or not a site you are about to visit might be a phishing site." It is worth it to turn on the mode because it can "protect users from accidentally giving their information to malicious actors, potentially saving them time and money," McAuliffe added.

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It's not just websites and emails that will be safer, McAuliffe argued. The mode "also scans files before you download them to block suspicious files," and being extra cautious "is worth it to make sure you're being as safe as possible."

While Enhanced Safe Browsing forces users to provide Google with additional data, "The company already knows plenty about you, particularly when you're logged into Gmail, YouTube, Chrome or other Google services," Shira Ovide wrote for The Washington Post. So while there are concerns about privacy, it's not like Google doesn't already have people's personal information. "It is a trade-off, and I would choose to trust Google in exchange for saving me from criminals," Jim Downey, a cybersecurity expert at digital security firm F5 Inc., told the Post.

Privacy issues

Despite the added security, users looking to keep their information private "may find Enhanced Safe Browsing more concerning, since Google gets a direct peek at things like your downloads," Alaina Yee reported for PC World. It also links data "with your Google account while you're signed in," Yee noted.

In fact, the only real downside to enabling Enhanced Safe Browsing "is the sheer amount of personal data that Google will be able to access," Khamosh Pathak reported for LifeHacker. The mode is "able to check all the links that come through your Gmail account," as well as any extensions or plugins on Chrome. While Google says all of this data is anonymized, "Anonymizing data isn't perfect — it can still be linked to social media profiles," Pathak added. He recommends that people enable the mode only "if you're okay with that potential risk."

Google has continued to assert that there are few real privacy concerns with Enhanced Safe Browsing. However, by enabling the feature, "You'll share more data with Google about where you go and what you do online," David Nield wrote for Wired. Despite the company's assurances, Nield opined that people "can't be blamed for feeling like you've already given Google enough data as it is."

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Justin Klawans

Justin Klawans is a staff writer at The Week. Based in Chicago, he was previously a breaking news reporter for Newsweek, writing breaking news and features for verticals including politics, U.S. and global affairs, business, crime, sports, and more. His reporting has been cited on many online platforms, in addition to CBS' The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

He is also passionate about entertainment and sports news, and has covered film, television, and casting news as a freelancer for outlets like Collider and United Press International, as well as Chicago sports news for Fansided.