Google is working to highlight the existing privacy control feature in its popular Chrome browser this week with the release of a new step-by-step guide to the browser's privacy settings.
"Developed at the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC) (opens in new tab), Privacy Guide is a step-by-step guided tour of some existing privacy and security controls in Chrome — so you can manage and make the right privacy selections for you in one spot," Audrey An, Google's Product Manager for Chrome, said in a statement.
Google introduced several new privacy control features to Chrome back in May 2020 to help users manage cookies, website permissions, and more. These features, however, are contained in a settings menu that many users might not even know exists.
Providing a user-friendly walkthrough of Chrome's settings will hopefully let more users better control what information they are willing to share and with whom.
"When you navigate through Privacy Guide, you’ll learn about the benefits, trade-offs and privacy implications of each setting — so you can easily understand what happens when a particular one is on or off," An said.
"Currently, Privacy Guide includes controls for cookies, history sync, Safe Browsing, and Make Searches and Browsing Better. As Chrome evolves and we receive feedback from the community, we may add more settings to the guide over time."
Analysis: useful privacy controls, or a regulatory heatshield?
Anything that helps users control what information about them gets shared on the internet is definitely a good thing. But that still puts the onus on the user, which isn't ideal.
Google has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years for its privacy and data collection practices, so this should be viewed in light of that criticism. On the one hand, Privacy Guide could be a sign that Google is listening to its critics and actually doing more to protect user data and privacy.
That is definitely the more generous perspective. The less generous take would be that Privacy Control may be another one of those things that get announced but soon lost in the news cycle, meaning users barely learn about it, and so never use it.
That is something Google has control over. If Google wants you to use a new feature in Gmail or Google Docs that will make it money, it will happily promote its use very prominently (because it obviously benefits the company for you to use their new feature).
If this is the last time we hear from Google about Privacy Control until it's later deployed during a Congressional hearing as evidence that Google has taken privacy concerns seriously and so shouldn't be regulated, then it's worth asking what the actual purpose of this new guide really is.
In the world of online privacy and Big Tech, there are plenty of reasons to be cynical. For our part, we'd really like to be pleasantly surprised. We really, really would.