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Google Chrome: To Sync or Not To Sync

I noticed something different, and slightly concerning, recently with my Chrome browser activities. The person icon in the upper right looked a little sick, in that it wasn’t displaying it’s neutral gray self but instead was displaying a logged-in profile icon (see below for the no-profile look).

Chrome Profile Default Icon
Chrome No-Profile Default Icon

Immediately I was thinking… how can this be? I haven’t logged into Chrome directly, only associated services and only when I’ve needed to use them.

Now, browser wise I’m generally found browsing github, some shopping, tech research, stream some di.fm and soma.fm, and online finance. Once in a while I’m logging into resource sites for different organizations I’m a part of. This is where my concern pops up. Because I have a number of different google accounts spread between work, home, and other organizations I’m less than thrilled at the idea of having one account logged in possibly leading to data leakage between the different accounts where those accounts don’t need that information.

In doing some research into this, it turns out this is a new feature of Chrome since earlier in September 2018; release 69 by what information is available. See the ZDNet, BleepingComputer, or Verge articles on this. I found a Google forum post somewhere that indicated v68 might have been the start, but that is largely irrelevant.

So then, how does one turn this off? That’s a great question. Apparently some people have had luck by modifying a specific setting in Chrome for account consistency

chrome://flags//#account-consistency

The idea is to disable this setting as you can see below.

Chrome setting for disabled consistency

At least for me, this failed to work (see the “T” icon below).

Now, it might have changed things slightly because when I log out of gmail, it logs out of chrome. This is a positive change, but still not ideal since I didn’t want it to log into chrome in the first place.

Because of this I’ve continued to search but not come up with other solutions other than moving back my primary browsing functions to Firefox (which I might do as a result of this, but I’m still undecided).

However, in all of this looking, I did find something interesting. A settings/diagnostic area I’d previously not seen.

chrome://sync-internals/

This area appears to contain all of the sync system diagnostics including the data being synced. This screen indicates that while the account might be listed as signed in, it isn’t syncing data (see image below).

So, all in all, this may not be an ideal situation but the suggested setting change appears (at least for now) to have ensured that syncing doesn’t happen and that accounts are only logged in for as long as they are logged into the service.

This still leaves a question about what happens when you have multiple accounts logged in at the same time and how that is treated whether sync is on or off. Perhaps another bit of research for another time?

Torry Crass

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