Chrome Version 80: More Privacy and Less Noise

Google Chrome continues its trek forward with version 80, bringing with it some nice changes for the average user as well as some more technical, if somewhat controversial changes.

Notifications Calm Down:

chrome-notifications
Image courtesy of Google

Much like Firefox’s recent update, Google has recognized the annoyance of site notifications.  While they can be handy with sites you care about, say you prefer the web version of your email over a desktop app, so many sites are requesting it that it’s gotten out of hand.  Notifications will now be under a bell icon in the URL bar on desktop, and in a bar at the bottom of your screen on mobile.

HTTPS Upgrade:

Google is continuing to try and upgrade web security by pushing for more things to be secured under HTTPS://.  This is the secure version of the basic web traffic protocol that lets you get to websites.  In this current iteration, Google will attempt to automatically upgrade any video or audio playing through Chrome to HTTPS:// if it isn’t already, meaning that you should be a bit more secure when watching videos or listening to some audio that no one else could be listening in.  However, if the media isn’t already HTTPS, and Chrome can’t upgrade it, then the media will be blocked from playing.

Images also got a slight tweak to their security.  Like video and audio, Chrome will attempt to upgrade any images loading to load with HTTPS.  Unlike video and audio, however, if they can’t be upgraded the pictures will still load.  The only difference is that Chrome will show “Not Secure” in the address bar.

Same-Site Cookies: Private, But Be Careful

This next one gets a bit technical, but we’ll try to make it easy.  Chrome is adjusting how cookies are handled to make your browsing more private.  Cookies are little tokens that websites put onto your computer to identify you.  Cookies have legitimate uses, one of the most being that cookies are used to keep you logged into a website; you sign into your bank or social media account, and the site saves a cookie to your computer.  That allows you to navigate to the pages that have the info you, and only you, should see without it needing to ask you to log in every time you want to go to a new page.  However, this is also commonly used by advertisers to track you around the web.  You go to a website that displays ads to earn revenue for the site, the ad company places a cookie on your machine, so when you go to a different site they can build a profile about your likes to sell you other things you might be interested in.  This last one has, understandably, upset people because everything you search for or lookup online is known by ad-companies, which has caused people to want to limit cookies or block them all together.  Google wants to help balance the use of cookies for privacy.

Starting in this version, some users will have a “SameSite” policy enabled by default.  What this means is that cookies will only be loaded and stored when they come from the same site that you’re using, any third party cookies won’t be loaded.

There are two important things to note with this.  The first is web-developers can adjust how their site to deploy cookies to be allowed onto your machine intentionally, as there are some legitimate uses of “third party” cookies. The second note is that his won’t be enabled by default for everyone.  It will actually be implemented in 2 weeks for a small collection of users and gradually enabled for more users as time goes on.  This feature may break some websites, so Google is testing the waters on this.  If you decide you want to enable this feature though, go to the address bar and type in chrome://flags, then search for “SameSite”.  Then you can enable “SameSite by default cookies,” and “Cookies without SameSite must be secure.”  Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 6.02.13 PM

While a good start to privacy changes, this is likely part of Google’s strategy to maintain use of them to a certain degree.  Their ad revenue business depends on tracking people, and the “blunt” tools of blocking all third party cookies or tracking cookies like those in Apple’s Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox browsers or other tools don’t help with that.  Google wants give users some more privacy that ultimately doesn’t break their business.  Time will tell how well this feature works for users or for privacy.

Reduce “Heavy” Ads:

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 6.03.43 PM

Speaking of experimental features, “Heavy Ad Intervention”!  If you go back into the chrome://flags you can find and enable this feature.  This is more of a performance helper.  As the description describes, it unloads adds that use up too much of your devices resources, meaning big bulky ads shouldn’t slow down your web browsing as much when enabled.  Again, this is a feature in testing for now, so approach with caution.

Tab Groups:Screen Shot 2020-02-07 at 3.19.03 PM

One last interesting option in the chrome://flags is the “Groups” option.  When enabled in flags, this will allow you to make Groups out of tabs.  As seen in the picture, they will take on the same color, with a dot of that color separating them on the left side from other groups, and be organized next to each other.  We’ve seen something like this in other browsers or their extensions, though this is not yet as fully fleshed out.  For one, there doesn’t seem to be a way to name the groups at this time, it will typically take the name of the first tab in the group, plus a number for the number of other tabs in that group.  If you drag a tab outside of that group, it will no longer stay a part of that group.  Furthermore it won’t allow you to maintain separate sessions for logins on the same site like Firefox’s Multi-Account Containers; if you sign into an online account in one tab group, it’s available to all other tabs in that group.  Still, it’s a handy way of organizing tabs that will still be useful to many people.

Security Fixes:

Chrome has fixed 56 security issues found by its own or outside developers.  If you want to read the full list on their security page then you can check it out.

What do you think of the updates?  Let us know on social media and in the comments below.

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