Modern Software Experience

2008-09-26

Google Chrome

privacy

One big issue with Google Chrome is that it does not exactly go out of its way to protect your privacy. Sure, it features Incognito Mode, but fact remains that Google collects a lot of information from Chrome users.

Chromium

Google Chrome is the Google-branded version of Chromium. Chromium is an open source project, with a fairly liberal license, that allows all comers, including competing browsers, to take advantage of it.

Iron

Google probably did not expect that some developers would fork the project into another one - but that is exactly what SRWare did. They forked Chromium and now present Iron.

Iron gets you all the good features of Chrome without the bad ones. Iron is Chromium minus its privacy issues. The Iron versus Chrome page lists the Chrome misfeatures that are absent from Iron (translated from German):

Problem Chrome
Client-ID Client Chrome creates a unique ID that can be used to identify the user.
Timestamp Chrome remembers exactly when the software was installed
Suggest The Suggest feature sends URL you type to Google
Alternate Error Pages A wrong address gets an error page from Google, not Chrome
Error Reporting On a crash, information is sent to Google
Data Collection Chrome transmits encoded data to Google, e.g. when and where Chrome has been downloaded.
Google Updater Google’s update process regularly contacts Google when you are online
URL Tracker Connects to Google homepage in the background

SRWare is a German company and they have not created English pages for Iron yet, but the download link is hard to miss. The same page has the source download in four parts.

browser of the future

SRWare calls Iron "Der Browser der Zukunft" (the browser of the future). No false modesty there, and they do have a point, privacy is important.

There are so many privacy issues with Google Chrome that it is not entirely unreasonable to label it as spyware. Sure, you can turn several things off, but there is still the matter of the default setting.

influence

I don’t think Google is too thrilled about their Chromium project being forked even before it reaches version 1.0, but it may cause them to re-evaluate what they are doing, and pay more attention to privacy advocates. The release of Iron and the attention it generates are sure to influence the Chromium project.

I would not be surprised to see the Chromium project develop in the direction of the Iron project, to silence the privacy complaints and maintain a single code base.

All Google really has to do is turn all those features of by default, and provide clear privacy warnings for users about to turn a feature on. There will always be users that like the Suggest feature enough to give up a bit of browsing privacy.

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