Chrome won't clear your Google and YouTube data — even if you tell it to

(Image credit: Future)

If you set Google Chrome to purge all website cookies and site data when you close the browser, it nonetheless keeps the site data for two specific websites: YouTube and Google itself.

So says Mac programmer Jeff Johnson, who documented the naughty behavior in a blog post earlier this month (as earlier reported by The Register).

"Perhaps this is just a Google Chrome bug, not intentional behavior, but the question is why it only affects Google sites, not non-Google sites," Johnson wrote. "I've tested using the latest Google Chrome version 86.0.4240.75 for macOS, but this behavior was also happening in the previous version of Chrome. I don't know when it started."

To set Google to get rid of all site cookies and data every time you quit the browser, go to Settings, then "Privacy and security" and then "Cookies and other site data" and then toggle the switch labeled "Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome."

In theory, this should work on all sites. But according to Johnson, it doesn't.

"Chrome exempts Google's own sites, such as Search and YouTube, from this setting," he wrote. "After I quit and relaunch, the [YouTube] cookies are deleted, but the database storage, local storage, and service workers are still there!"

He found the same behavior related to, but no other websites. 

How to get around the Google exemption

In order to get those sites to comply with Chrome's own rules, Johnson found that he had to manually add and to the list of sites that can never use cookies at all. (That likely means he'd have to log into Gmail every time he launched Chrome.)

We haven't tested this on Windows, but because Chrome behaves pretty much the same way on all desktop platforms, we'd expect the same behavior there. Retaining site data isn't that big a deal, but it does permit Google to track users who might have thought they were exempting themselves from such things. 

"Many users set Chrome to automatically delete cookies-and-site-data on exit ... to prevent being stalked around the web even though it often requires them to log back into websites the next time they visit due to their per-session cookies being wiped," The Register's Kieren McCarthy noted.

McCarthy reached out to Google for comment, and the search giant claimed it was an innocent mistake.

"We are aware of a bug in Chrome that is impacting how cookies are cleared on some first-party Google websites," Google told The Register. "We are investigating the issue, and plan to roll out a fix in the coming days."

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.