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You’re probably familiar with the permissions systems on Android, iOS, and even Windows 10. These allow you to decide which potentially sensitive areas of your device that apps can access.
But did you know that Google Chrome also has a long list of permissions you can toggle? This gives you more control over how websites can interact with your device. Let’s look at the available browser permissions and consider what you should do with them.
How to Access Browser Permissions in Chrome
We’ll focus on Chrome here since it’s the most popular browser. In Firefox, you can access some permissions at Options > Privacy & Security > Permissions, but there aren’t as many options.
Access website permission settings in Chrome by first clicking the three-dot Menu button at the top-right and choosing Settings. From there, scroll down and expand the Advanced section to show more options. Under the Privacy and security header, click Site Settings.
Here, you can set the default behavior for each type of permission, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Chrome also lets you change these permissions for individual websites. Click View permissions and data stored across sites at the top of this page to show a list of websites that have saved data on your computer.
You’ll need to click an entry to expand all its domains (if applicable), then click the site you want to adjust permissions for. This shows a similar menu to the master list of permissions.
How to Change a Single Site’s Permissions on the Fly
If you prefer, you can jump to a certain website’s permissions page while visiting it. Most settings will match the global settings in the browser, but if you want to tweak it for a specific site, then Chrome makes it easy too. Plus, you can manage the site’s cookies too.
Click the padlock icon (or Not secure text) to the left of the address bar to open a box with connection information.
Choose Site settings and you’ll see the permissions for that site.
What Do Browser Permissions Do?
Next, let’s go down the list and explain what Chrome’s various permissions allow websites to access.
1. Cookies and Site Data
This isn’t technically a permission, but it’s included in the list first, so we’ll start with it.
Cookies are small pieces of information that websites save on your computer to track and remember information about you. For instance, when you check the Keep me signed in box on a website, it sets a cookie to keep you logged in.
- Allow sites to save and read cookie data: You should keep this on, or else sites might not work correctly.
- Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome: This wipes out all data websites have on you after you close the browser. It’s a bit like using incognito mode.
- Block third-party cookies: Enabling this allows websites you visit to save cookies, but blocks cookies from ad providers and other content.
Below this, you can choose See all cookies and site data to remove or view cookies from individual sites. You also have three fields to add specific sites that will always block, always allow, or always clear when you exit Chrome.
This one is simple: it lets websites know where you’re located. You’ll often see a prompt to use your location on retail sites in order to connect you with the closest store.
Your options here (which will be common across many of the permissions) are Ask before accessing or Blocked. In most cases, we recommend Ask before accessing so you can decide on a per-website basis.
If you have a webcam in your laptop or plugged into your PC, websites might want to access it. A common reason for this video chat.
Like location, you can set this to Ask before accessing or Blocked. If you choose Blocked and then want to grant access later, you’ll have to toggle it manually.
Websites might use your microphone for communication or to record audio for some purpose. Like the above, you can block it everywhere or make sites ask every time. This page also lets you set which microphone to use as the default.
5. Motion Sensors
This one might sound confusing at first. Your laptop and phone have sensors, like the gyroscope and light detectors, that let it know how the device is oriented and how much light is in the room.
Websites can access this data, presumably for marketing purposes. It would let them know if you’re in a vehicle, how often you move, and other related information. You can allow or block sites from accessing this by default, and Chrome will let you know when a site does so.
We can’t imagine this being important for most people, so feel free to block it.
Notifications get your attention quickly, so websites love to send them. You can enable or disable notifications, which you’ll probably want to do on a per-site basis.
For instance, you probably want notifications for web apps like Gmail and Slack. But you don’t need to hear about the latest sales and updates from every other website.
Adobe’s Flash runtime was once a backbone of multimedia content online, but it has fallen out of favor and Adobe will no longer support it after 2020.
You can block Flash completely or have sites ask for permission to use it. We recommend having Chrome ask for permission instead, as you may come across some old Flash content you want to check out.
This allows you to block all images from showing on websites. In most cases, you probably won’t want to do this, but it can let you save bandwidth or hide distracting images on certain sites.
10. Pop-Ups and Redirects
Nobody likes popup ads. Chrome blocks these by default, and it’s wise to keep it that way. This setting also prevents redirects, which is when a website sends you to another page. There are some legitimate uses for them, but they’re often malicious.
Chrome doesn’t block all ads by default. Instead, this allows you to block ads “on sites that show intrusive or misleading ads.” Google doesn’t define exactly what this means, but it most likely blocks obnoxious full-screen ads or ads that constantly load every time you scroll.
You can allow all ads if you’d like to for some reason.
12. Background Sync
Some sites can finish tasks, like uploading a photo, even if your computer goes offline or you close the page during the process. This setting, enabled by default, lets that happen. We recommend keeping it on for the best experience.
It’s unlikely that you’d want to mute every website. But if you come across certain sites that auto-play annoying videos, you can mute them here.
14. Automatic Downloads
By default, Chrome will warn you when a site tries to download more than one file at a time. While there are legitimate reasons for this to happen, it’s often a way to sneak dangerous files on your system.
You can leave this set to ask every time, but exercise caution when you see it happen.
15. Sandboxed Plugin Access
Chrome works in a sandbox, which means it isolates its various processes. This can minimize the effect of a malware attack on your system. While they’re increasingly rare, some websites do rely on plugins to access your computer so they can perform tasks like streaming video.
These plugins don’t run in Chrome’s sandbox, so you have to authorize them manually. The default is fine for most people.
Some websites can open links that launch desktop or web apps. For instance, a site might be able to open iTunes on your PC, or opening a Discord link might prompt you to load it into the desktop app.
By default, Chrome asks you to allow this “handling” each time. If you want to block all requests, you can do so.
17. MIDI Devices
MIDI is a standard for using electronic musical instruments with a computer. Some websites may want to access MIDI devices for music purposes, which you can block with this setting. This is unlikely to be a concern for most people unless you use a MIDI controller.
18. Zoom Levels
Not a permission per se, but this allows you to set a custom zoom level for specific websites. You can also adjust the zoom level for any sites that have one.
19. USB Devices
While uncommon, some websites may have the functionality to access USB devices attached to your PC. Chrome will ask you by default, but you can block all these requests if you prefer.
20. PDF Documents
This is more of a preference than a permission. By default, Chrome will open PDFs right in the browser. If you prefer, enable this option and Chrome will download them instead.
21. Protected Content
“Protected content” refers to copyrighted movies, music, or other media that you access online. For the best results, you should keep this option enabled so you can view this type of content on the web.
Before you stream a movie from a certain provider, it may want to get information about your device to make sure everything checks out. On Windows or Chrome OS, you’ll see this reflected in an option labeled Allow identifiers for protected content.
Certain websites might want to access the text or images you have on your clipboard. By default, they’ll ask for permission, but you can block this if you wish.
23. Payment Handlers
This option allows sites to install new methods of handling payment on websites. For example, when you’re checking out with a retailer, you might see a dropdown box offering you several ways to pay. With this option, sites can add new payment methods.
You probably won’t come across this often, so the default is fine.
Managing Permissions Done Right
Now you know what all the permission settings in Google Chrome actually do. You shouldn’t have to adjust most of them, but have a look and make sure they reflect your preferences. If you’re not sure, having Chrome ask every time is a good default.
Google regularly makes changes to Chrome, so these may move around or disappear in the future.
For more, check out our mega-guide of Chrome tips that will help you master using it.