[Update: Google responds] No, Chrome doesn’t automatically sync your browsing history when you sign in to a Google website

By | 24th September 2018
google chrome sign in

Update 9/26: Google has published a blog post to further clarify the Chrome sign-in situation.

Over the weekend, Google found themselves in the middle of a small internet uproar over a change in Chrome. It turns out the situation is not as sinister as people originally thought. In short, Chrome 69 shows the user’s Google profile photo in the status bar when they sign into a Google product. However, this does not mean the user is signed into Chrome Sync.

The outcry came from people who assumed the profile photo meant they were signed into the browser and all of their information was being tracked by Google. Adrienne Porter Felt, a Google engineer, took to Twitter to explain what is going on here. The profile photo is meant to serve as a reminder to the user that they are signed into a Google service, not the browser. There is an extra step required to turn on Chrome Sync.

Adrienne explains that this feature was created to prevent people from staying logged in to Google services on shared computers. The user can then easily sign out of the Google services by clicking the profile photo instead of visiting all the services separately. It’s really just a heads-up notification to show your login state.

Some people are still not happy about this change as it could be used to get more people to turn on Chrome Sync. More people syncing data is obviously a good thing for Google, but this doesn’t seem to be a sneaky trick. The user still has to make the conscious choice to sign in and sync their information.

Update: Google’s Response

Google has published a blog post, which is essentially the same as Adrienne’s explanation.

We want to be clear that this change to sign-in does not mean Chrome sync gets turned on. Users who want data like their browsing history, passwords, and bookmarks available on other devices must take additional action, such as turning on sync.

The new UI reminds users which Google Account is signed in. Importantly, this allows us to better help users who share a single device (for example, a family computer). Over the years, we’ve received feedback from users on shared devices that they were confused about Chrome’s sign-in state. We think these UI changes help prevent users from inadvertently performing searches or navigating to websites that could be saved to a different user’s synced account.

The good news for those who don’t like this change is Google will be making a fix in Chrome 70. Users will be able to toggle off the feature of signing into Chrome by signing into apps.