'Related' Browser Add-On: Handy, But at Cost to Privacy

Google's Chrome and IE browser extension makes finding related Web content a snap but the privacy trade-off is high

A nifty Google browser extension called "Google Related" makes finding associated Web content a snap, but for privacy-minded Web surfers the convenience will come with a hefty cost. The Chrome Web browser extension creates a navigation bar at the bottom of the browser, and as you roll your mouse cursor over the bar Google generates content relevant to what's on the page you're viewing.

Google announced the Web browser extension Tuesday for its Google Chrome Web browser. The Google Related add-on takes the form of a toolbar for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. No support for Apple's Safari, Firefox, or Opera Web browser software was announced.

I took the Google Related for a spin and liked it. It's easy to see how it can become one of those "must have" extensions. While the content displayed by Related may be limited in volume, it's still valuable for fleshing out the content of a webpage or providing jumping off points for additional searches.

Here is how it works. Google Related creates a strip of buttons that pop into view when you hover your cursor over the bottom edge of your browser. Hovering on a button displays a list of content -- video, images, news, maps, reviews, shopping and Web pages -- related to the content on the Web page.

Button categories are also tied to the Web page's content. For instance, if you're on a restaurant page, the buttons allow you to pop up a map to the eatery, read reviews of it, and see related restaurants in the same area. On a news page, you might see a button for news related to stories on the page, one websites relevant to those stories and another for related images.

The tool doesn't work with all websites. It didn't work with Internet Movie Data Base, for instance or, ironically, with Google.com pages when I visited those sites.

What I liked best about the add-on was the fact that when I was visiting a site the tool was "smart" enough to figure out the character of the site -- a restaurant, for instance, or shopping site -- and configure itself in a way that was relevant to the location. So when I stopped by one of my favorite Italian restaurant sites, I could see a map to it, not that I needed it, and reviews of it, also superfluous in this case, and related restaurants, which could be used when in an adventuresome mood. But when calling up a product in Amazon, it provided buttons for comparing products and related video and images.

Google is careful to alert potential users of Related that the tool gathers information about the pages you visit and sends it back to Google. You can hide the tool for specific websites through its options menu. On the Google toolbar, you can disable it entirely through that tool's options menu.

Information collected by Related includes the URL of website visited, your machine's IP address and one or more Google cookies. That data is retained in Google's server logs and maintained according to its general Privacy Policy.

In addition to that information, Google says it may collect non-personal usage statistics about your installation of Related, such as the version number, language and how often certain actions are taken in the extension. These usage statistics do not include personal information such as your Google Account information, email or name.

Google says it uses the information gathered from Related to operate and improve the tool.

Google Related might not be for everyone, but if you can look past privacy issues and are type of Web surfer who appreciates a deeper dive into related content your viewing without having to revisit Google.com this extension is for you.

For more tips on better browsing you may want read 10 Must-Have Google Chrome Extensions and 10 Must-Have Firefox Extensions.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

Tags MicrosoftbrowsersGoogleApplesoftwareapplicationsInternet Explorerchromeonline privacyBrowsers & Add-Ons

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