Is The Google Hangouts Extension Spying on You?

Mental Outlaw
9 Jul 202409:35

TLDRA viral tweet raises concerns over a non-removable Google Hangouts extension in Google Chrome, suspected of spying on users by accessing system CPU, GPU, and RAM usage stats without user consent. The extension, linked to Google Meet, may violate EU's DMA laws, prompting potential removal. Users are advised to consider alternative browsers for privacy, with some Chromium forks offering the option to disable the extension.

Takeaways

  • ๐Ÿ” A Google Chrome extension related to the discontinued Google Hangouts service cannot be disabled or seen in the extensions panel.
  • ๐Ÿ”’ The extension only connects to google.com domains over HTTPS, suggesting it may only communicate with Google servers.
  • ๐Ÿ“Š The extension uses the system.CPU API, which can fingerprint the CPU and provide real-time statistics about CPU, GPU, and RAM usage.
  • ๐Ÿšซ There is no user request for permission to access the system.CPU API, unlike other extensions.
  • ๐Ÿ—‘๏ธ Google Hangouts was discontinued in 2022, but its code has been integrated into Google Meet and other services.
  • ๐Ÿ“š The EU's DMA laws promote user freedoms and prevent platform lock-in, which may be violated by this extension's exclusive access to certain APIs.
  • ๐Ÿค” The extension could potentially give Google Meet an unfair advantage over competitors like Zoom and Skype.
  • ๐Ÿ› ๏ธ Removing the extension would require altering Chrome's source code, as seen with projects like Ungoogled Chromium.
  • ๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™‚๏ธ Some speculate that the extension might be spyware, but the script suggests this is unlikely given Google's existing tracking practices.
  • ๐Ÿ“‰ The extension could be seen as unnecessary bloat in Chrome, and there may be calls for its removal to improve performance or comply with regulations.
  • ๐Ÿ›‘ Alternative browsers like Ungoogled Chromium or Brave offer options to disable the Hangouts extension, while others like Firefox do not include it at all.

Q & A

  • What is the Google Hangouts extension controversy mentioned in the transcript about?

    -The controversy is about a default extension in Google Chrome that relates to the discontinued Google Hangouts service. This extension cannot be disabled and doesn't appear in the extensions panel, raising concerns about user privacy and potential spying.

  • Why can't the Hangouts extension be disabled in Google Chrome?

    -The Hangouts extension is a default part of Google Chrome and is not removable through the browser's standard extension management interface, which is unusual and raises questions about user control over their browser environment.

  • What is the concern with the system.CPU API that the extension uses?

    -The system.CPU API allows for fingerprinting the CPU of the device and obtaining real-time statistics about CPU, GPU, and RAM usage, which could be seen as an invasion of privacy since it can be used to track user behavior without explicit consent.

  • How does the EU's DMA law relate to this issue?

    -The DMA law aims to prevent large digital platform providers from giving their products an unfair advantage on their platforms. The Hangouts extension could be seen as a violation since it provides Google Meet with access to system statistics that other video calling applications do not have.

  • What was the fate of Google Hangouts?

    -Google Hangouts was officially discontinued in 2022, after being put on Google's 'application death row' in 2017 when Google began developing Google Meet.

  • What alternatives to Google Chrome are suggested in the transcript?

    -The transcript suggests using browsers that are not based on Chromium, such as Firefox and its forks, or using Chromium forks like Ungoogled Chromium, which disable the Hangouts extension by default.

  • How does the Hangouts extension issue affect other Chromium-based browsers?

    -Other Chromium-based browsers like Microsoft Edge and Brave also have the Hangouts extension enabled by default, which could be problematic for users concerned about privacy, especially since Brave is marketed as a privacy-focused browser.

  • What can users do if they want to disable the Hangouts extension?

    -Users can either switch to a browser that does not have the Hangouts extension enabled by default or compile their own version of Chromium without the extension, as done by the Ungoogled Chromium developers.

  • What is the potential impact of this controversy on Google Chrome's reputation?

    -This controversy could damage Google Chrome's reputation, especially among users who value privacy, as it raises concerns about Google's practices and the extent to which the company is tracking user data.

  • What is the suggestion for users who are concerned about this issue and want to take action?

    -The transcript suggests that users who are concerned about this issue should stop using Chromium-based browsers, especially Google Chrome, and switch to alternatives that respect user privacy more.

Outlines

00:00

๐Ÿ”’ Unremovable Hangouts Extension in Chrome Raises Privacy Concerns

The script discusses a viral tweet about an unremovable extension in Google Chrome related to the discontinued Google Hangouts service. This extension, which connects only to Google domains, includes access to the system.CPU API, enabling it to fingerprint the CPU and monitor real-time system resource usage without user consent. The narrator suggests this could be a violation of the EU's DMA laws, which aim to prevent platform gatekeepers from favoring their own products. The script also touches on the broader implications for privacy and competition in the tech industry, hinting at potential repercussions for Google.

05:02

๐Ÿ•ต๏ธโ€โ™‚๏ธ Debunking Spyware Rumors and Considering Alternative Browsers

In this paragraph, the script addresses rumors that the unremovable Hangouts extension is a form of spyware, arguing that while Google's tracking practices are extensive, this specific extension is unlikely to be used for spying. The narrator suggests that the extension might be seen as bloatware or a potential violation of the DMA laws, which could lead to its removal in future Chrome updates. The script also reviews the availability of the extension in other Chromium-based browsers, highlighting options like Brave, which allows users to disable the extension, and recommends considering non-Chromium browsers for better privacy.

Mindmap

Keywords

๐Ÿ’กGoogle Hangouts Extension

The Google Hangouts Extension refers to a piece of software that was once associated with the Google Hangouts service, which allowed users to make video calls and chat within the browser. In the video, it is mentioned as an extension that cannot be disabled or removed from Google Chrome, suggesting it may still be collecting data even though the Hangouts service has been discontinued since 2022.

๐Ÿ’กFingerprinting

Fingerprinting in the context of the video refers to the process of identifying and collecting unique characteristics of a device, such as the CPU, GPU, and RAM usage. The Hangouts extension is said to use an API that allows for such fingerprinting, which raises privacy concerns as it can track the system's resources without user consent.

๐Ÿ’กDMA Laws

DMA stands for Digital Markets Act, which is a set of regulations proposed by the EU to regulate digital 'gatekeepers' and ensure fair competition in the digital market. The video discusses how these laws could potentially affect Google, as they prevent companies from giving their products an unfair advantage on their platforms, which might be the case with the Hangouts extension.

๐Ÿ’กGoogle Meet

Google Meet is a video-conferencing service developed by Google, which replaced Google Hangouts. The script mentions that although Hangouts has been discontinued, much of its code was integrated into Google Meet, and there is speculation that the Hangouts extension might still be used to collect data to improve Meet.

๐Ÿ’กSystem API

The System API mentioned in the video is a function within the Chrome browser that allows extensions to access and monitor the system's CPU, GPU, and RAM usage in real time. The Hangouts extension's use of this API is a point of concern as it can collect sensitive system information without explicit user permission.

๐Ÿ’กEU

The European Union (EU) is referenced in the context of the DMA laws, which are designed to regulate the practices of large digital platforms. The video suggests that Google's practices with the Hangouts extension might be in violation of these laws, which could lead to fines or other penalties.

๐Ÿ’กUngoogled Chromium

Ungoogled Chromium is a modified version of the Google Chrome browser from which certain Google-specific features and components have been removed or replaced. The video mentions it as an alternative for users who wish to avoid the Hangouts extension and other potential privacy issues associated with Google Chrome.

๐Ÿ’กBrave Browser

The Brave browser is highlighted in the video as a privacy-focused web browser that, despite its intentions, also has the Google Hangouts extension enabled by default. The script notes that users can disable this extension within the browser settings, which raises questions about its inclusion in a browser that prioritizes privacy.

๐Ÿ’กMicrosoft Edge

Microsoft Edge is Microsoft's web browser, which, like Google Chrome, has the Hangouts extension enabled by default. The video points out the irony of this situation, given that Microsoft has its own video conferencing software, and the inclusion of the extension may give Google Meet an unfair advantage.

๐Ÿ’กFirefox

Firefox is an open-source web browser developed by Mozilla, which does not contain the Google Hangouts extension. The video suggests Firefox and its forks as alternatives for users concerned about privacy and the presence of the Hangouts extension in other browsers.

๐Ÿ’กSpyware

The term 'spyware' is used in the video to describe software that secretly collects user information without their consent. While the Hangouts extension is not explicitly called spyware, the video raises concerns about its potential to collect data in a similar manner, especially given its inability to be disabled or removed by users.

Highlights

A Google Chrome extension related to the discontinued Google Hangouts service cannot be disabled or seen in the extensions panel.

The extension connects only to google.com domains over HTTPS, potentially allowing Google to collect data.

It utilizes the system.cpu API to fingerprint the CPU and get real-time statistics about CPU, GPU, and RAM usage without user consent.

The Hangouts service was discontinued in 2022, but remnants of its code persist in Google Meet.

The EU's DMA laws promote user freedoms and prevent platform lock-in, which may be violated by this extension.

Google Meet may still have access to the extension, giving it an unfair advantage over competitors like Zoom and Skype.

The extension could be in violation of rules against pre-installed software that cannot be uninstalled by the user.

Removing the extension would require modifying and recompiling the Chrome source code, as done by ungoogled-chromium developers.

Some speculate the extension could be spyware, but the video argues that Chrome itself already tracks user data extensively.

The video suggests that the extension might be removed in a future Google Chrome update to address user concerns.

The extension is considered bloatware in an already bloated Chrome browser, potentially slowing it down.

The video raises the possibility of the extension being a DMA violation and leading to fines from the EU.

Alternative Chromium-based browsers like Brave allow users to disable the Hangouts extension through settings.

Microsoft Edge and some forks of Chromium also have the Hangouts extension enabled by default.

Firefox and its forks do not contain the controversial Hangouts code.

The video recommends switching to non-Chrome browsers to avoid potential spyware and improve privacy.

The speaker promotes their online store with a discount for paying in Monero, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency.