How to keep your Google Chrome extensions from snooping on you

There’s a good chance you have a bunch of Google Chrome extensions you don’t even remember you downloaded. But these add-ons have access to your data and might be snooping around on you—even if you’re not using them.

To prevent old extensions from peeking at your browsing, it’s important to perform a security audit from time to time. Taking a look under Chrome’s hood will ensure you’re only sharing what you want with apps that are actually useful to you.  

To the right of Chrome’s main navigation bar, you’ll see an icon shaped like a puzzle piece. That’s the Extension menu—click it to see a preview of the add-ons you’ve installed on your browser. 

Then click Manage extensions, which you’ll find at the end of the list. Chrome will open a new tab featuring a tiled view with each extension’s description and toggle switches you can turn off to quickly disable individual add-ons, if you want. To proceed with your security audit, click the Details button on the extension tile you want to check out. 

[Related: 5 browser extensions that will keep you from drowning in tabs]

On the next page, you’ll see information about that specific add-on, but there are two items you’ll need to look at more closely: Permissions and Site access. The former will give you a brief description of exactly what the extension can do and what information it has access to, while the latter will tell you what sites it can read and make changes on. 

When it comes to site access, you’ll usually get a dropdown menu with three options: Choose On all sites to allow the app to make changes on all the pages you open. This is the default option and it’s necessary for extensions like ad-blockers or screen recorders, for example. Or pick On specific sites to limit the add-on’s range of action, as you may want your grammar-corrector to only work on sites related to your job, like Google Docs. When you choose this option, Chrome allows you to specify the sites you want the extension to work on—paste the URL in the emerging window and click Add. You can continue adding sites by clicking Add a new page. For a more restrictive approach, you can pick On click, which means the app will stand idle until you activate it by clicking its icon.  

If you’re not comfortable with the extensions’ permissions, it’s time to move to another menu. 

Manage your extension’s permissions 

On the extension’s details menu, click Site settings. This will take you to a new page with a breakdown of all the permissions an extension can have. This list is similar to your phone’s app permissions settings, so you’ll see items you may already know about, like Location, Microphone, Camera, and Notifications. Beside most entries on the list, you’ll find a dropdown menu with three options, though some may have specific permissions. Sound, for example, has Automatic and Mute, but in the end, they’re all versions of the basic three options: Allow, Block, and Ask.

The first two are self-explanatory: they will either fully grant or deny an add-on’s access to a specific resource. So, if the extension you’re using for screen recording also has the ability to turn on your camera and film you, you can choose to block camera access if that’s something you don’t want to do. This is also a great place to turn off notifications for any pesky extensions that might want to let you know about a price drop or how much money you’ve saved online shopping this past month.  

To make sure you have a secure setup, go through the permissions list and take a good look at the items that are always allowed. If you’re not comfortable giving an app that level of access, make sure you change that to either Block or Ask. Other than the more evident Location, Microphone, and Camera, pay particular attention to entries such as Pop-ups and redirects, Automatic downloads, File editing, Payment handlers, Insecure content, and Third-party sign-in.  

Get rid of idle extensions

As granularly as you can customize your extensions’ permissions, it’s always a good idea to use the following rule of thumb: If you’re not using it, toss it. Some Chrome apps may just be getting a free ride on your browser, not doing anything wrong. But they might also turn into an open door for hacking or tracking if the platform or developer is compromised. 

[Related: These 5 popular Chrome extensions are compromising your computer]

Removing extensions on Chrome is easy: Go to the Manage extensions menu and click the Remove button on the relevant extension’s tile. You’ll also get the option if you’re in the Details menu: Just scroll down, click Remove extension, and confirm your choice in the emerging window. 

Related Posts