Google’s recent redesign to Chrome brought a lot of changes, but version 69 actually makes another behind-the-scenes tweak that some aren’t a fan of. Over the weekend, Google found itself under fire regarding a change to its sign in process, but now an engineer and manager for Google Chrome has come out to clarify exactly what’s going on…

Trending articles and lengthy blog posts have noted a recent change to the browser, which essentially automatically signs users into the browser when they sign in to a Google service (previously, the two were entirely separate). For example, signing in to a Gmail account on a fresh install of Chrome that has no sync turned on now makes the browser show itself as signed in regardless.

This quickly triggered many users into thinking that Google was automatically signing users into the browser and turning on sync features like uploading browsing history (which is entirely separate). It was a clear privacy concern, but Google has since come out to explain exactly what is going on.

Google Chrome isn’t actually signing you into the browser

Google’s own Adrienne Porter Felt, an engineer and manager for Chrome, explains in a series of tweets what has changed in Chrome 69. Rather than signing users into Chrome fully when they log in to a Google service, the browser simply shows that user icon in the corner as a “reminder” that they are signed into a Google service.

Apparently, this change was made to prevent problems in a shared device scenario. With this change, Google says that users only need to sign out of the browser’s user to sign out of all of the Google services they may have signed into. It’s certainly a strange change, but I think it does make things a bit more clear overall. The series of tweets also clearly points out that this sign-in method does not turn on sync features such as tracking your history.

Google, admittedly, was strangely quiet about this change leading up to Chrome 69’s release, though. It wasn’t mentioned at all in previous announcements regarding the release.

Admittedly, too, some of the concerns that have been raised weren’t necessarily about mischievous tracking and uploading of browser history, but more the communication regarding the change and the potential slippery slope that could have users unknowingly opting-in to Google cloud syncing features in the future. These criticisms seem fair:

The fact of the matter is that I’d never even heard of Chrome’s “sync” option — for the simple reason that up until September 2018, I had never logged into Chrome. Now I’m forced to learn these new terms, and hope that the Chrome team keeps promises to keep all of my data local as the barriers between “signed in” and “not signed in” are gradually eroded away.

Regardless, we’ve since been able to verify what Felt says about the change in the latest Chrome version. As of today, at least, there’s no reason to think Google made this change in an attempt to scoop up more browsing history data into its servers — you still have to manually enable that.

More on Google Chrome:

Kyle Bradshaw and Stephen Hall contributed to this article.

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Ben Schoon

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