Remember Internet Explorer? I don’t mean the Internet Explorer of 2015, I mean the IE from the bad old days. You know, back before tabs weren’t a thing. Do you remember discovering Mozilla Firefox, and how much like magic that felt? Not just tabs — though tabs were great — but the extensions. You could install a single lightweight program with a single click, and all of a sudden, banner ads would go away. Install another, and you’d have a whole set of new and amazing smiley faces to choose from.
Then, in 2008, you discovered Google Chrome, which did everything Firefox did except faster and better. But here’s the thing — in Chrome, extensions are evil.
According to a report from Detectify Labs, many popular extensions are quietly harvesting all of your browser data and sending it to third parties. Although Chrome purports to work against entities that wish to track your data, its anti-tracking extensions don’t have visibility into the extensions that are actually tracking you. And since many extensions will ask for permission to access every website you are currently visiting, it is trivial for those same extensions to gather and store all of your browsing data.
What’s happening to all of that data? Good question! Most of this data is being fed into tracking and analysis services. Some of this data is granular enough to identify you individually. Some of this data may include links to information you thought you were sharing confidentially, such as links to documents on DropBox and Google Drive. Are you being adequately informed that your data is being shared? Do you have any control over who this data is shared with? You do not.
Detectify’s webpage provides a list of the suspect extensions that have been discovered so far. You can uninstall these if you like, but I think it should be clear by now that the only way to privately browse the internet is by using the TOR browser, on a computer that you don’t actually own, preferably inside a room shielded with lead.