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    People who use Chrome and a Google account provided through a business or school probably started seeing this last week. The language in the popup is unsettling, but schools (for example) are insisting that Google, not the schools, had made the changes and that the schools can not and are not tracking anything. (You can see another school’s explanation here. I’ve seen several of these now, and they all seem to be cutting and pasting large chunks of the same language.)

    On the one hand, I find it hard to imagine that all of these schools are flat out lying about this; it’s too easy to get caught down the line. On the other hand, if Google explicitly tells you that user accounts provide access to bookmarks, browsing history, and passwords to another party, then I tend to believe them.

    Before people swarm in with recommendations not to use Google services or not to use Chrome as a browser, remember the context. In organizations like a university, you don’t choose who hosts your email, calendar, etc. The school does. Individual students cannot easily opt out of those services. (At a business, it can be a requirement. You can to be told that for legal reasons, you must use such-and-such an email account for work-related email.) As for browsers, schools will often present Chrome as the blessed, best, or official browser. (I’ve seen many schools tell users that their local CMS is “best used with Chrome.” If you contact someone with trouble using the CMS, the first question is often, “Are you using Chrome?” If the answer is no, you’re told to switch.) None of this is to say that it’s completely impossible to get around these barriers, but the barriers are real.

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      This is one of the messy side effects of product decisions at Google — Google wants to more or less force you to use a “logged-in” Chrome instance and will go to nearly any length to do so, including the history of deceptively logging you in to Chrome any time you signed in to any Google property. And Google also sells corporate and institutional customers on managed all-in-one accounts with mail, calendar, docs, etc. which, of course, play best with Chrome and require you to log in to Chrome with the managed account.

      Which in turn creates messes like this, where a school is having students/faculty receive a reminder of just what a managed Chrome account really is, and then needing to do damage control because the invasiveness of it and the utter lack of privacy or of end-user control over data is the whole point, from Google’s business perspective. It just gets particularly awful when the same device tries to have both a “managed” profile and an individual-person profile on it (and that’s without getting into what else can be forced onto a “managed” profile — at a previous employer I spent literal years off-and-on fighting with the security team over this, because they wanted full MDM of personal devices just to view calendar, and were unwilling ever to budge on that).

      This also is a vision of what the entire web is likely to look like in the not-too-distant future, because for some reason the tech world has decided to make, and governments are starting to listen to, the bizarre argument that it’s Apple which uniquely poses a threat to competition in the web-browser market. Once iOS is forced to “open up” to alternative browser engines, Google will finish the process of abusing the popularity of its web properties to force Chrome onto everyone on every platform, and that will be the end of the web browser market, forever. No amount of government antitrust action will be able to undo it, either, because Google is large enough and rich enough to drag out enforcement until competitors like Mozilla are driven out of the market (aided by Google cutting off their funding, most likely).