You’ve heard me cover plenty of Chrome extensions that take advantage of you by mining your data. Over the past few years, Google has done its best to reign this in with a ‘Seal of approval’ on the Chrome Web Store (now completely redesigned, by the way), and more. I don’t have to tell you how unsettling it can be to know that an extension could be installed on your Chromebook, collecting data that you’re unaware of, especially since ChromeOS is meant to be a safe and secure place to do all of your browsing, banking and more. So, today, I’m going to go over a few ways you can check for and remove malicious Chrome extensions from your Chromebook.
Only install extensions that respect your privacy
First up, I need to stress the importance of avoiding installation of extensions that are less than savory. Remember that ‘seal of approval’, I just mentioned? Well, Google first created this as a means to help inform you of extensions that respect your privacy and well, extensions that don’t. If you visit the Chrome Web Store and scroll down on any extension’s landing page, you’ll see a ‘Privacy’ section that outlines this.
Grabbing add-ons that collect some data is likely going to be necessary, especially if they modify your system at all. Think Zoom, which uses your camera, start pages that add things to your new tab page in Chrome and more. To be honest, it’s largely unavoidable, especially if you want to make the most of your Chromebook. However, I do recommend at least starting with extensions that say “The developer has disclosed that it will not collect or use your data.” That is the seal of approval!
How to perform an extensions safety check
Okay, let’s say you’ve got a few extensions you’re enjoying using, and you want to know whether or not they’re safe to keep. Ideally, you will have followed the method above of pre-checking for bad actors before buying into an experience, but let’s say for the sake of argument that you didn’t. Visit the chrome://settings/privacy page in your browser and click the blue ‘Check now’ button under ‘Safety Check’
This will automagically scan your system for any available updates, compromised passwords, and whether or not Safe browsing is enabled to protect you against malicious websites. Recently, Google added extensions into the mix of this Safety Check feature, which means it only takes one click to sniff out bad actors! Please note that this is available in Chrome 117, but may not be rolled out to everyone. So, let’s discuss how you can do this manually!
How to remove Chrome Extensions from your Chromebook
Lastly, I want to show you how to manually remove any extensions you’re no longer using or want. Ideally, you’ll cull these on a rolling basis to keep them tamed. The more you know about what you’re using, the safer you can be in your day-to-day usage. Knowledge is power, after all! Again, I reiterate that you should uninstall any extensions you end up trying and decide you don’t like, no longer have use for, and so on.
Visit the ‘chrome://extensions’ page in Chrome. Here, you’ll see a full list of any extensions you have installed. There’s an update button at the top which will automatically grab the latest version of said extensions from the Chrome Web Store. However, now that we’re here, we want to click the ‘Details’ button on any item you want to check.
Once you call up the details page for an extension, you’ll see a toggle to enable or disable it, an option to pin it to the tool bar so it’s always visible at the top-right of Chrome, site access controls, and more. I want to draw your attention to the ‘Permissions’ section though. This will read identically to that ‘Privacy’ segment from the Chrome Web Store where you grabbed the extension from.
Here, you can see what kind of data the developer collects and how they use it and hopefully why. If you feel uncomfortable with the permissions granted, I regret to inform you that unlike Android apps, you currently don’t have granular control over giving and taking away each permission. Even if you did, it would likely cause the extension to stop operating, since they generally only collect what they need in order to do their job for you.
At the very bottom of the individual extension details page, you’ll see a ‘Remove extension’ option. If you simply click that, you’ll get a pop-up dialogue box on the top-right of Chrome asking if you’d like to remove it from your Chromebook or browser. Clicking the blue ‘Remove’ button will wipe it out! There’s also an option to ‘Report abuse’, so you can tell Google if you feel a developer has abused their privilege to exist on your system and handle your data.
It’s worth noting that you can also directly remove the extension from the Chrome Web Store’s listing page for it as well, but the more you know about how to handle details of items installed on your laptop, the better. Performing a safety check saves you time compared to going one-by-one and checking extension permissions, but you can do so if you’ve yet to receive the update I mentioned or simply want more control and peace of mind.
By the way, Dark Reader is a great and in my humble opinion, a trustworthy extension to use if you want to get a dark mode on websites that simply don’t offer it (ahem, Google Calendar, etc!) I only used it as an example today because I had it up, not because it’s malicious.
One last note – there are extensions that check for bad extensions too. WOT (Web of Trust) is a dashboard or sorts that has similar features to Google’s built-in tools and is worth a look if you’re accustomed to traditional Windows malware scanning software, but for a simple extension check, use Safety Check in Chrome.