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Mozilla Says Latest Chrome Feature Enables Surveillance

Chrome 94 has officially dropped. As always with a new version of the browser, there is a lot to be excited about. However, there are also some items to be skeptical about, including a feature Mozilla claims allows you to keep an eye on it.

How Chrome’s New Feature Is “Bad”

Chrome 94 features a controversial Idle detection API . Basically, websites can ask Chrome to report when a user with an open web page is idle on their device. It’s not just about your use of Chrome or a particular website – if you’ve moved away from your computer and aren’t using any apps, Chrome can tell the website that you’re not actively using your computer.

Unsurprisingly, developers love this new feature; Anything that can give them more insight into how users interact with your apps is a good thing. It’s enabled by default in Chrome 94, but it might not be as bad as it sounds. What use your webcam or microphone , a message will ask for your permission before using your inactive data on a particular website.

A website that requests

The API it comes with its fair share of opponents, including rival browser maker Mozilla. The people behind Firefox say it creates an “opportunity for surveillance capitalism.” Mozilla’s web standards leader, Tantek Çelik, commented on GitHub , saying:

As currently specified, I find the Idle Detection API to be too tempting an opportunity for websites motivated by surveillance capitalism to invade an aspect of the user’s physical privacy, keep long-term records of the user’s physical behaviors, discern daily rhythms (eg at lunchtime) and use that for proactive psychological manipulation (eg hunger, excitement, choice) …

Therefore, I propose to label this API harmful and encourage further incubation, perhaps by reconsidering simpler and less invasive alternative approaches to solving motivating use cases.

Of course, Mozilla competes with Google Chrome, so it’s not surprising that a competitor has harsh words about something Google is doing.

However, it is not just Mozilla. Apple’s Safari browser uses WebKit, and the WebKit development team also had a lot to say about the new API. Here’s what Ryosuke Niwa, an Apple software engineer who works at WebKit, had to say:

That doesn’t seem like a strong enough use case for this API. For starters, there is no guarantee that the user will not immediately return to the device. Also, who is such a service supposed to know what other device user might be using at any given time? We are definitely not going to let a website know all the devices that a given user might be using at any given time. That is a very serious violation of the privacy of said user. It seems to me that such a suppression / distribution mechanism is best left to the underlying operating systems / web browsers to handle.

Chrome 94 is here!

We will have to wait and see how developers use this new API in Chrome. It could end up being an absolute privacy nightmare, or it could be no big deal.

And either way, it’s worth remembering that websites cannot receive notifications of your inactive status unless they ask you first and you agree to share.

Either way, there are some good things in google chrome 94 , and they’re worth downloading just for the security fixes.

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