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Have you ever opened your browser of choice and been greeted with a bizarre-looking start page or an unsightly toolbar glued to the top of the page? These changes seem to happen by magic and without warning. At their worst, they can slow your browsing to a crawl and spawn ads into nearly every page you visit, so it’s wise to purge them from your browser. Fortunately, with just a few minutes of your time and a keen eye, you can restore your browser to tip-top shape. These instructions cover Chrome on Windows, since it’s the browser most people seem to have issues with.
How Does This Stuff Get On Here, Anyway?
Typically, these problem-causing programs are not intentionally installed by the user, but rather by trickery. Here’s an example. You’ve probably seen this image before:
Yes, that’s the Ask Toolbar installer, which arrives bundled with Oracle’s Java. This toolbar, as you can see, provides a user with only features that they could readily find elsewhere. Modern browsers can search the Web simply by typing into the address bar and create shortcuts to sites such as Facebook and weather below the address bar manually.
The worst part of all is that the boxes are already checked – and every time Java updates, which is often, the user must remember to uncheck the boxes once again. And heaven forbid, if you do forget to uncheck those boxes of death, removing the toolbar is an absolute horror.
Seeing as even a legitimate program like Java bundles in this junk for you, it’s no wonder that many users find their browsers plagued over time. Whether you’re sure that you’ve been affected by these programs or you just want to do a wellness check-up, here are three places to check to make certain Chrome is completely clean.
Extensions in Chrome are often the root of undesirable behavior, and thankfully, they’re easy to find all in one place. Simply click the menu bar in the top-right of Chrome (the three bars), then expand “Tools” and click on “Extensions.” From here, you will see a list of every extension installed in your browser. Ones that you purposefully installed likely are not the culprit, so look for any that seem out-of-place.
One big clue is the “installed by a third party” message under an extension – this indicates that something other than you installed it. Often these extensions also have the generic “puzzle piece” icon – but not always.
There’s no reason for something to stay on your computer that you didn’t authorize, so it’s a good idea to remove them.
If you’re on the fence about an extension, seek help: the Chrome Web Store allows users to leave reviews on extensions, so if others rate it poorly, throw it out. Another valuable resource is the website Should I Remove It? The site allows you to look up any program and see what it does, where it typically comes from, and what percentage of users removed it. It’s extremely helpful if you don’t consider yourself a good judge of a program’s integrity.
The Default Search Engine
Even though you’ve removed a shady-looking extension that was injecting ads into your browser, traces may still remain. The next place to check to make sure that Chrome is healthy is the search engine settings.
From the extensions menu you were just visiting, click on “Settings” on the left hand side of the menu. A list of settings comes up, but for now we’re interested in one – entitled “Search.” A drop-down box lets you pick your favorite. If it’s not something recognizable like Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, then change it to whichever you prefer.
An optional follow-up step is to completely remove the offending search provider(s). Choose “Manage Search Providers” and all the way to the right of a provider’s name there will be an X. Click that, and the provider goes poof.
Why is this step important? As aforementioned, when you type something into the address bar that’s not a web address, Chrome automatically searches for it using the default search engine. Additionally, some of these search engines try to imitate Google, so if you’re in a hurry you may not notice what you’re actually using.
If that engine is a garbage one, you’ll still be using it every time you search the Internet in this way, and since these search providers are usually filled with a mountain of ads, they’re better off left alone.
The Home Page
Similar to the default search engine, many of the malicious extensions like to change your default homepage. For this step, you’ll want to check two spots in Chrome:
First, visit the “On Startup” section in Chrome’s settings. If “open a specific page or set of pages” is the chosen option, click “set pages” and make sure none of them look strange; if they do, remove them and set them back to whatever you like.
Second, under the “Appearance” header in the settings, choose to show the home button. Again, if the page listed here looks weird to you, change it and you’re good to go.
By performing these easy steps, you’ve cleaned your browser of all unwanted litter. This will get rid of most problems of this type; if they persist, you may need to visit the programs list in Windows to see if they’re installed on your computer instead of just in the browser, or perhapstake even more drastic measures. And thankfully, the future looks bright in this area, as Google will soon enact a policy that blocks these third-party extensions by default. Once that is in place, a much lower amount of spam extensions will appear in the wild. Until then, you now have the knowledge to take charge of Chrome on your own.
Have you experienced any particularly nasty browser extensions? What are your best strategies for avoiding bundled-in software? Sound off in the comments!