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Google removes ‘Beta’ label from Chrome, but browser still fails privacy test

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Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 4:26 pm

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I was surprised today when Internet giant Google today removed the "Beta" or test label from its new Chrome browser. Four-year-old Gmail still carries the "Beta" label. Despite the changes, though, the Web browser still offers inadequate protection for users’ privacy.

They’ve made a token gesture on privacy, but really haven’t faced up to the key issue. Most users simply do not realize they are in an unnoticed conversation with Google’s servers that gathers identifiable personal data.

Google has grouped most of the options relating to privacy issues in one place on the menu bar. Finding those options is not simple and requires several clicks away from the browser’s home page. The settings do allow a user to opt out of providing personal data.

But while it’s true a user can opt out of sharing personal information with Google and not give data to its servers, the default mode is to provide information.

I acknowledge that providing information can enhance a user’s browsing experience. However, users must understand they are turning over private, identifiable data when they use such functions as auto suggest.

The default mode for any feature that gathers data from a user’s computer should be "off." If users decide the benefits of the feature warrant turning over data, then they can give informed consent and opt in. Google, for its own commercial purposes, has it backwards.

Google is known for keeping products in "Beta" or test mode for a long time. Its popular e-mail service, Gmail, launched four years ago, still carries the Beta label. Chrome was in Beta mode for only 100 days. Analysts note that so far it has won only about one percent of the browser market, while arch-rival Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has about 70 percent. Mozilla’s Firefox has about 20 percent.

Take a look at our videos demonstrating problems with privacy for users of Google’s and products.

Google may have removed the "Beta" label, but Chrome has one big bug: it doesn’t adequately address privacy concerns.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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