How To Auto Refresh Chrome Pages – Safely And Privately

It can be very useful to auto refresh Chrome pages if you want to keep them right up to date – e.g. on a newspaper site with breaking news, you’ll see the latest headlines when you revisit the page.

It can also help you stay logged into a site which would otherwise log you out after a few minutes of inactivity.

Of course you can refresh a webpage manually, by pressing F5. Or quickly reload all pages (or selection of pages) manually or at the click of a button, as I reviewed previously.

But those methods still require manual effort – the beauty of using a Chrome extension is that you can configure a timer to automatically refresh a page (or selection of pages) at set intervals.

Usually I’d opt for one of the most popular extensions but, after reviewing them, most have privacy or security issues…

Privacy issues in popular Chrome auto refresh Extensions

[If you’d just like to see which extension I’d actually recommend, skip down to the next section]

The 5 most popular extensions I tested all required the “read and change all your data on the websites you visit” permission.

Per Google’s Permissions guidelines, this Medium Alert risk means you give the extension “access to read, request or modify data from every page you visit (bank account, Facebook)“. They may also insert a content script into every site you visit.

That level of access may be acceptable for a trusted extension that requires it to do its job e.g. a password manager like LastPass, but it really isn’t necessary to just reload a page at set intervals!

The reasons the 5 extensions give as to why they require such a high permission level are quite vague, or unknown:

Auto Refresh, over 700K users – not obvious but the website privacy policy states that it sends data to Google Analytics.

Easy Auto Refresh, over 600K users – may send anonymous data about your browsing to third parties, per the developers’ Privacy Policy: “…we may use anonymous data capture … to track … information resulting from your use of the add-on and that we may share or make available this information with our business partners.

Auto Refresh Plus and Super Auto Refresh Plus, both over 70K users – I can’t find any explanation as to why they need the “read and change all your data” permission.

The same applies to Super Simple Auto Refresh, 25K users.

So I have two issues with all these popular extensions:

  • Best security practice is to always use the least permission necessary for the task. ‘Read and change all your data’ is not required for page reloads (as the extension in the next section proves) so why use it?

If it’s because the developers want to employ Analytics etc for tracking, that’s not good for privacy – of more concern are the 3 cases where no reason is given…

  • Because they already have that higher level permission, it is possible that malicious code could be introduced in a future automatic update, without prompting you to accept new/higher permissions – you would have no way of knowing if the extension was updated with malicious code…

I’m not suggesting the current developers would do this but there have been plenty of cases where, for example, an extension was innocently sold to a third party who then released a malicious update.

Safer option – Tab Reloader Extension

Tab Reloader (page auto refresh) extension is refreshing (excuse the pun) because the only permission it requires is “Read your browsing history” which is a Low Alert risk and is the minimum permission required to actually auto refresh a page in Google Chrome.

This low permission avoids both the security issues discussed above. Download from Chrome web store here.

After installation, it displays a webpage with details of features and FAQs – it’s easy enough to work out how to use but FAQ number 4 ‘How can I setup a new reloading job?’ should get you started:

  • Simply switch to the tab you would like to be reloaded periodically. Now open the options popup, by clicking the extension’s icon at the top right of Chrome as shown below:

auto refresh chrome popup

Before you click on Enable Reloader, first adjust the time and/or change any other settings if you wish – then Enable Reloader to start the reload job for that page. You can’t change these settings once the Reloader job is active.

Overall, this extension works well for me – it remembers the refresh settings for each job (up to 20 jobs) even after closing Chrome and it has a useful option to not reload a page if it is active.

There is also a badge number on the extension’s icon which indicates the number of active reloading jobs – this badge can be hidden in Options if desired.

My only slight criticisms are that the Enable buttons in the popup are really small and that entering a custom time could be made easier e.g. via a dropdown selection instead of having to type the numbers.

Conclusion

Tab Reloader is a safer extension to auto refresh Chrome pages. The interface isn’t the prettiest but it does this basic job well enough.

It only has 6K users which is a shame as, in terms of privacy and security, it’s a better choice than the most popular extensions.