Chrome on Android isn’t exactly a bastion of privacy. A lot of the privacy features are disabled by default.
So, if you use Chrome on Android, which settings can you alter to protect yourself? Keep reading to find out.
1. Enable Do Not Track
Websites place cookies on your device. The cookies allow the sites to track your activity around the web, even when you’re not on their domain.
If you turn on the Do Not Track feature, Chrome will automatically send a Do Not Track request with your browsing traffic.
In theory, this prevents websites from using tracking cookies. However, it relies on the website to comply with the request. Technically, sites are under no obligation to honor the demand.
This approach differs from the Firefox feature, which will won’t allow sites to track you under any circumstances, even when the site in question does not adhere to the Do Not Track standard.
On the positive side, almost all mainstream sites will honor the request, so the feature will stop them from collecting your data.
To turn on Do Not Track on Chrome on Android, follow the steps below:
- Open Chrome on your device.
- Tap on More (the three vertical dots in the upper right-hand corner).
- Select Settings from the menu.
- Go to Advanced > Privacy.
- Tap on Do Not Track.
- Move the toggle into the On position.
2. Turn On Safe Browsing
As phishing attacks become more sophisticated, it’s becoming harder and harder to spot them. Similarly, sites which try to install malware on your device or launch other social engineering attacks are becoming more and more commonplace.
To try and help, Google has developed its Safe Browsing technology. It’ll show a warning on your screen if you try and navigate to a page which it deems to be unsafe.
In addition to malware and phishing attacks, it will also warn you about sites which prompt you to install unwanted software. Google defines unwanted software as “programs disguised as helpful downloads that actually make unexpected changes to your computer like switching your homepage or other browser settings to ones you don’t want.”
To turn on safe browsing, follow these steps:
- Open Chrome on your Android device.
- Click on More.
- Go to Settings > Advanced > Privacy.
- Mark the checkbox next to Safe Browsing.
If you’d like to learn more about Google Safe Browsing, check out its Transparency Report.
3. Turn Off Autofill
Autofill is a security nightmare. Given it pre-populates addresses and credit card details on apps and websites, someone with access to your phone could not only steal your identity but also rack up a significant amount of spending before you realize something is wrong.
You can turn off the two features by opening Chrome and going to More > Settings > Basics > Autofill and payments and disabling the various toggles.
It’s also important to delete any old cards and address that are still connected to your autofill account. You can do that in Chrome; go to More > Settings > Privacy > Clear browsing data > Advanced > Autofill form data.
4. Check Your Site Permissions
Have you ever stopped to consider all the different things sites want to access when you visit them?
Some of these settings are allowed by default. However, if you want to be extra secure, you should set them all to Ask first. Although it might be tempting, you shouldn’t just blindly disable everything. It can lead to usability issues.
Annoyingly, the permissions settings are split across two areas. You can adjust some in Chrome itself by going to More > Settings > Advanced > Site Settings. For the remainder, open the phone’s main Settings app and navigate to Device > Apps > Chrome > Permissions.
5. Manage Your Syncing Options
Chrome is just one part of the much larger Google ecosystem. As such, it wants to share data with all your other Google apps and all the other instances of Chrome you’re running.
This has significant benefits from a productivity standpoint. However, from a privacy and security perspective, it’s a disaster. By syncing your data, you’re creating multiple weak points in your armory.
What happens if you leave your laptop on the bus? Or someone steals your tablet from your bag without you realizing? Not only will all your personal data be available to the person in possession of your belongings, but they’ll also be privy to a real-time feed of your online activity.
We’re not necessarily advocating disabling all syncing, but you need to reach a happy compromise between safety and productivity.
For example, do you really need to sync your cards and addresses? What about your passwords? It’s much better to install a password manager like LastPass on each of your devices instead.
You can manage which data Chrome is syncing by going to More > Settings, tapping on your name, and selecting Sync.
6. Disable Usage Reports
Doesn’t Google already collect enough data about how you use the web? Well, apparently not. By default, the Chrome app is set up to send usage and crash reports to Google automatically.
Crash reports we can (kind of) understand. Google needs to learn what’s going wrong with Chrome so it can improve it in future releases.
But usage reports? That’s a broad term.
We know usage reports contain information such as preferences, button clicks, and memory usage. But, did you know that usage reports are also how Google calculates site speed in its search rankings? It aggregates your data with other users who’ve visited the same site.
We shudder to think what else is sent. Unsurprisingly, Google isn’t very forthcoming with the information.
The best solution is to turn it off. You can do so by going to More > Settings > Advanced > Privacy > Usage and crash reports, then flicking the toggle into the Off position.
7. Disable Prediction Services
In a bid to speed up the search process, Chrome will send data from your address bar to your default search provider as you type. The search provider will then make the recommendations and predictions that you see on-screen.
It’s is a common misunderstanding. Almost everyone assumes Google is providing those suggestions. Of course, if Google is your search provider, it is. But many people have changed provider without realizing the impact on their privacy.
If you’ve been sensible and changed your search service to a privacy-conscious one (such as DuckDuckGo), the sending of data might not be much cause for concern.
However, if you’re using a niche search provider that specializes in finding jobs or locating data on social networks, it might be more of an issue. It’s unlikely smaller search engines treat your data with the same level of diligence as some of the big players.
You can disable search prediction services by heading to More > Settings > Advanced > Privacy > Search and site suggestions.
More Tips for Boosting Privacy on Android
The seven tips we’ve discussed only cover the Chrome app on Android.
If you’d like to learn more about improving your security and privacy on the rest of your Android device, we’ve got you covered. Check out our articles on privacy-friendly Android apps and the best VPNs for Android.