Google: You know we said that Chrome tracker contained no personally identifiable info? Yeah, about that...

Chocolate Factory clarifies its header for monitoring browser field trials following The Register report


Updated Google has seemingly stopped claiming an identifier it uses internally to track experimental features and variations in its Chrome browser contains no personally identifiable information.

In February, Arnaud Granal, a software developer who works on a Chromium-based browser called Kiwi, claimed the X-client-data header, which Chrome sends to Google when a Google webpage has been requested, represents a unique identifier that can be used to track people across the web. As such, it could run afoul of Europe's tough privacy regulations.

When The Register reported these claims, Google insisted the X-client-data header only includes information about the variation of Chrome being used, rather than a unique fingerprint. "It is not used to identify or track individual users," the ad giant said.

The Register has no reason to believe the X-client-data header was ever used to track and identify people across websites – Google has better ways of doing that. Concern about the identifier has more to do with insufficient disclosure, inaccurate description, legal compliance, and the possibility that it might be abused for identifiable tracking.

The specific language appeared in the Google Chrome Privacy Whitepaper, a document the company maintains to explain the data Chrome provides to Google and third-parties.

Last month, Google's paper said, "This Chrome-Variations header (X-client-data) will not contain any personally identifiable information, and will only describe the state of the installation of Chrome itself, including active variations, as well as server-side experiments that may affect the installation."

That language is no longer present in the latest version of the paper, published March 5, 2020.

Google Chrome logo

Is Chrome really secretly stalking you across Google sites using per-install ID numbers? We reveal the truth

READ MORE

Asked why the change was made, a Google spokesperson said only, "The Chrome white paper is regularly updated as part of the Chrome stable release process."

In place of the old language, seen in this diff image, is a slightly more detailed explanation of the X-client-data header, which comes in two variations, a low-entropy (13-bit) version that ranges from 0-7999 and a high-entropy version, which is what most Chrome users will send if they have not disabled usage statistic reporting.

The Register asked whether the change was made to avoid liability under Europe's GDPR for claiming incorrectly that the X-client-data header contained no information that could be used to personally identify the associated Chrome user. But Google's spokesperson didn't address that question.

In an email to The Register, Granal said, "Knowing a bit the inner-workings on both sides (including Google's lawyers), this is certainly a sensitive issue and it can be costly to Google if the issue is not addressed properly.

"As a user, in the current state, it's important to understand that no matter if you use a proxy, a VPN, or even Tor (with Google Chrome), Google (including DoubleClick) may be able to identify you using this X-Client-Data. Do you want Google to be able to recognize you even if you are not logged-in to your account or behind a proxy? Personally, I am not comfortable with that, but each person has a different sensitivity with regards to privacy.

"I'm sure if you explain in simple words, to national data protection offices that Google can track your computer with a 'permanent cookie' they wouldn't be happy with that at all." ®

Updated to add

After this story was published, a Google spokesperson pointed out the Chrome privacy paper still says the X-client data header doesn't include personally identifiable information, but in different words. The relevant paragraph, we're told, is:

Additionally, a subset of low entropy variations are included in network requests sent to Google. The combined state of these variations is non-identifying, since it is based on a 13-bit low entropy value

Also, we're told our claim that Chrome sends high-entropy variations in the header is incorrect: only low-entropy variations are sent.

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Talos names eight deadly sins in widely used industrial software
    Entire swaths of gear relies on vulnerability-laden Open Automation Software (OAS)

    A researcher at Cisco's Talos threat intelligence team found eight vulnerabilities in the Open Automation Software (OAS) platform that, if exploited, could enable a bad actor to access a device and run code on a targeted system.

    The OAS platform is widely used by a range of industrial enterprises, essentially facilitating the transfer of data within an IT environment between hardware and software and playing a central role in organizations' industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) efforts. It touches a range of devices, including PLCs and OPCs and IoT devices, as well as custom applications and APIs, databases and edge systems.

    Companies like Volvo, General Dynamics, JBT Aerotech and wind-turbine maker AES are among the users of the OAS platform.

    Continue reading
  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022