Chrome is a big part of day to day life for a significant portion of the world. That's true not just for day-to-day users either. That includes work, entertainment, or other use cases too. Google's app is well-known and widely used. And that means that most users are familiar with most of its features. From its security measures to the steps required to clear browsing data. But, Chrome extensions are a bit different, particularly when it comes to understanding how they work and the data they can collect.
As a result, not nearly as many users have a good understanding — even if they use quite a lot of extensions — when it comes to managing those. Here, we'll discuss how to take better control over extensions so they won't just collect everything wholesale. Potentially saving some big headaches later on.
There's only one way to completely limit Chrome extensions' data access
Learning how to completely disable access to data for extensions in Chrome is fairly straightforward. Google has gone a long way to making it as easy as possible. But, as with just about every web-based tool or site, it requires removing the extension entirely. Or by disabling them.
Otherwise, the extensions will have access to at least some user information, if not the data about which sites are visited and interactions. That's a matter of course due to how extensions, sign-in, and syncing with Chrome work.
As noted above, the following steps will cover how to remove an extension. But the same steps, with the exception of tapping or clicking "Remove" can be followed to simply disable them. So users don't need to uninstall their extensions every time they want to stop them working. And they don't need to follow that up by finding and reinstalling them to get them working again.
Similarly, these steps lead to the user interface (UI) for reporting extensions believed to be malicious. That way, if users happen across an extension that's behaving badly, Google can be notified and investigate. On one hand, the search giant might pull the extension and it could return with fixes in place to make it better. Or it might just give the developers a heads-up that the extension isn't working properly
Under different circumstances, it might simply be malicious and get pulled and reported to the proper authorities. In either case, ultimately preventing other users from encountering the same problems.
To get started:
- Open Chrome
- Tap or click the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand side of the UI
- Hover over or click on "More tools"
- Tap or click "Extensions." Chrome will load the dedicated Chrome Extensions menu
- Scroll to find the extension you'd like to remove
- Tap or click the "Remove" button
- Tap or click "Remove" on the resulting pop-up card. Select the checkbox for "Report abuse" first, if the extension has been exhibiting abusive behavior or if it appears to otherwise be malicious
- Open Chrome
- Navigate to the Extension page as described above
- Tap or click on the "Details" button to see what's being accessed and where
- Scroll down to the "Remove extension" option to remove the extension
- Tap or click "Remove" on the resulting pop-up and select the checkbox if the extension has exhibited abusive behavior
In the seventh step of the first method, selecting the checkbox will alert Google to potential bad behavior. That could result in the extension being removed from the Chrome Web Store, potentially saving others headaches.
But here's you can limit site data access for extensions
Some extensions, particularly those that appear next to the URL Omnibox, can also be limited on a site-to-site basis. In effect, they can be made to work with a single site, across all sites, or only on-click. That will — or at least should — limit how the Chrome extensions can access data.
It's worth noting that this only works for extensions that actually appear in that location in the UI. There are, it goes without saying, plenty of extensions that won't appear there even when they're activated. So users will want to check out the next set of steps for a deeper explanation. Especially if they extension they're looking for doesn't appear next to the Omnibox.
- Open Chrome
- Check to see whether there are any extensions in the UI next to the URL Omnibox (the address bar)
- Long-press or right-click on the extension that needs to be managed — conversely, press the 'alt' key and click in Chrome OS or click with two fingers
- Hover over or select the "This can read and change site data" option in the resulting context menu
- Select "When you click the extension" to ensure the extension only accesses data when it's clicked or otherwise selected
- Or select the second option to only enable the extension for the currently in-use website. That's "AndroidHeadlines.com" in the example images below.
- Choose "On all sites" to allow the extension to access all sites' data across all open tabs
There is also a deeper way to manage site access as well. But we'll cover that in the next set of steps, showing how multiple sites can be added to Chrome extensions' data access list. The segment will also discuss Incognito Mode, as well as how deeper extension settings are handled.
…and how you can limit access for at least some Chrome extensions
Now, extensions management isn't limited to that UI by any stretch. The above-mentioned tools will primarily be useful for quick access to controlling extensions and the data they can peruse. So here we'll take a deeper look at how Chrome extensions and data access can be controlled more comprehensively.
Google built a full menu for controlling extensions almost from the very beginning. And, within that menu, users can not only complete the above actions. They can also manage deep controls that will vary from extension to extension. Chrome also displays permissions, extension install size, the source of the extension, and other details here.
There are two ways to get to that menu, just for starters. The first is through the extensions listed out next to the Omnibox.
- Open Chrome
- Long-press or right-click on an extension next to the URL Omnibox
- Select "Manage extensions"
- Open Chrome
- Tap or click the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand side of the Chrome UI
- Scroll down to "More tools" and then select "Extensions"
From there, each individual extension can be toggled on or off.
- From the above-mentioned steps
- Scroll to the desired extension
- Click or tap the toggle switch on the extension card to disable or enable it
Or can be managed directly, whether that's removing Chrome extensions, reporting them, managing site data access, or how the deeper settings are set.
- Open Chrome and navigate to the Extensions menu
- Tap or click on the "Remove" button for any extension that needs to be removed or removed and reported
- Tap or click on the "Details" option for deeper management
- To limit site access, choose "Details" and then scroll to the "Site access" heading, for extensions that allow the adjustment. Choose the appropriate site access setting.
- To allow access to specific details, such as full site URLs — or to allow access in Incognito Mode — select the appropriate toggles
- For deeper settings, on extensions that have deeper settings such as the Google Translate extension shown in the example images below, select "Extension options."
Why limit access at all?
Now, it's important to note that adjusting these settings has absolutely nothing to do with how Chrome itself tracks user data — only extensions. There's an entire set of other steps required to change how Chrome tracks other user data. And it isn't possible to individually control permissions. At least not yet.
Chrome leaves it up to the end-user to decide what is or isn't appropriate permission access. Although it does limit permissions to those that the extension actually needs via its store policies, even if some extensions do slip through.
That leaves open a question as to why users should limit access at all. And the answer is fairly straightforward. Privacy and security. Chrome is the most popular web browser and it isn't even a close race. More users are gradually becoming aware of the risks associated with Google's data collection. And Google itself is putting more tools in place to help users manage that, it isn't perfect.
That is, at the very least in part, down to the fact that the company itself is facing increasing scrutiny in the US. On both sides of the political aisle. But, as noted above, some problems slip through.
Extensions can also slow down the browser significantly. Whether that's because they're large, to begin with, or because they eat up a lot of RAM — either immediately or over time. There are other workarounds for those issues as well. But the best solution is often prevention. And Chrome users don't necessarily need a lot of extensions.
These steps, at least for now and at least in Chrome's current iteration, help to address those potential issues.