Google has started to offer all 1.8 billion Gmail account users the option to activate enhanced security. I got my pop-up notification while checking my email this week and was surprised because it relates to something that’s been around for three years. So, why is Google asking Gmail users to get aboard the enhanced safe browsing train now?
What Is Google’s Enhanced Safe Browsing?
First launched for Chrome in 2020, Google’s enhanced safe browsing feature is a worthy addition to the security arsenal of the average user. It’s an automated function that sits in the background to offer proactive protection from phishing and malware threats alike. Or, as Google states, “Enhanced Safe Browsing keeps you safe when you’re signed in and improves your security in Google Chrome and Gmail,” be that “dangerous websites, downloads, or extensions.”
It’s not a security panacea, but enhanced safe browsing will monitor URLs, downloads, and extensions to check for known maliciousness, whether phishing or malware. Such real-time scanning and blocking is something most users would be advised to enable. Getting a warning that a site looks suspicious, or being able to scan a document before downloading for signs of malicious intent, is not to be sniffed at.
So, why hasn’t Google just made this a default option for Gmail users? The answer likely sits in the trade-offs between security smarts and perceived privacy issues.
What Are The Privacy Trade-Offs Of Enabling Enhanced Safe Browsing For Gmail?
The answer to the ‘why not default it’ question can be found in that Google support document I referenced earlier. Google uses information from enhanced safe browsing to “improve your security in Google Chrome and Gmail when you’re signed in,” and also “temporarily associates” this information with your Google account to help protect across Google apps.
The original enhanced safe browsing for Chrome announcement of the feature from 19 May 2020, says that “Chrome will also send a small sample of pages and suspicious downloads to help discover new threats against you and other Chrome users.”
The important point is that’s the information is only temporarily linked to your account and “after a short period” the data is anonymized according to Google.
All of which is, to be honest, what you would have to expect for Google, or anyone, to be able to provide this kind of functionality. However, because it’s Google, some people are going to be concerned about giving up more data than they already do. Personally, the security benefit outweighs the privacy risk, in my never humble opinion. But your mileage may vary, and it’s entirely up to you as to if you enable enhanced safe browsing for Gmail or not.
If you do decide it’s for you, but have yet to get the nagging notification from Google, then you can activate it immediately in the safe browsing settings for your account. If you do, please remember that this is not a free pass to click on any link in an email, download any document, and so on. The ultimate responsibility for your security remains with you, and you should follow the best practise advice to stay as safe as possible.
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