Chrome’s Awesome Screenshot extension turns spyware, here are alternatives

Update: The developers have added an option to the extension to disable the tracking. You find it on the options page when you click on "show Advanced Option". Here you can disable Enable non-personal,anonymous usage statistics to do so.

When extension developers want to make money from their popular extensions, they have only a few options to do so. They can ask for donations, offer a paid version, integrate a third-party monetization module in the app, or sell it to the highest bidder.

The last two options usually come with some form of user tracking that companies add to the extension to create profiles for use in advertisement or to sell the data to other companies.

Awesome Screenshot is a very popular Chrome extension. It has more than 1.3 million users and 45,000 ratings with the average rating being five of five stars.

It is a screenshot taking extension for Chrome that you can use to take part of or all of a page, add annotations, blur sensitive information and upload or share the screenshot afterwards.

Lately, the company behind the product has added a price comparison component to it which it removed shortly thereafter again.

awesome screenshot

Afterwards, it seems that another monetization module has been integrated into the extension. But lets start at the beginning.

When webmasters noticed hits to specific pages by bots, pages that bots normally don't access because they are not public and many require authentication to be accessed, they started to investigate the matter.

It turned out, that the Chrome extension Awesome Screenshot fed the bot, named niki-bot, urls taken from the user's browsing history.

A closer analysis by an affected user revealed that urls were sent over plaintext while others claimed that not only urls but also session data was captured by the extension.

If you check the description of the extension on the Chrome Web Store, you will notice the following update if you scroll down.

[Updated privacy policy] Usage of the Awesome Screenshot browser extension requires granting it permission to capture anonymized click stream data. Anonymous usage and browsing activity may be collected for research purposes and may be shared in aggregate with third parties. No personally identifying information will be captured in connection with this data. Please review our specific EULA https://www.diigo.com/extensions_terms.html and privacy policy https://www.diigo.com/extensions_privacy.html for more details.

The problem here is that most users may not see the update as it is not displayed above the fold. If you don't scroll down to read all of the description, you won't notice this at all.

In addition, there is no warning while you are installing the extension or an option to disable the feature.

If you read the privacy policy, you will come upon the following paragraphs:

Other Collected Information
When users access the software, certain non-personally and personally identifiable information (the "User Information") may be collected, stored and used for business and marketing purposes, such as maintaining and improving the Services, conducting research, and monetization. This User Information includes, without limitation: IP address, unique identifier number, operating system, browser information, URLs visited, data from URLs loaded and pages viewed, search queries entered, social connections, profile properties, contact details, usage data, and other behavioral, software and hardware information. If you access the Services from a mobile or other device, we may collect a unique device identifier assigned to that device or other information for that device in order to serve content to it. This collected data may also be supplemented with information obtained from third parties or submitted by users.

Conclusion

It is highly recommended to uninstall Awesome Screenshot, at least for the time being until the situation is sorted out. In the meantime, check out the following alternatives instead which offer a similar feature set.

Alternative screenshot extensions for Chrome

  • Lightshot - is a great extension that enables you to draw a rectangle on the screen that you want captured.
  • Webpage Screenshot - a highly popular extension to take screenshots, add annotations, blur sensitive information or to upload and to cloud storage directly.
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Chrome's Awesome Screenshot extension turns spyware
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Here are some alternatives for Chrome's Awesome Screenshot extension which turned spyware recently.
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Responses to Chrome’s Awesome Screenshot extension turns spyware, here are alternatives

  1. Rick August 25, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Tx for the update .. another good extension goes *poof*

  2. nonqu August 25, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Why people don't settle for windows snipping tool, I just can't understand.
    It takes 2 clicks to add blur and 2 more to upload to imgur. But you don't have to slow down your browser with another extension and you are using a tool that already comes with the system and don't have to worry about additional security risks.

  3. Visigoth August 25, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Agreed. I don't get it either. Window's built-in snipping tool does the job admirably. Together with Paint.NET if you want more advanced image editing, I see absolutely no reason to use any browser extension crap.

    • anonymaus August 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Can the snipping tool make pictures of the whole web page, not just the visible part?

      • nonqu August 25, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

        I don't know about chrome, but in firefox it's a build in feature.

      • MS Anti-Fanboi No.1 August 26, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

        In Firefox it ain't no "build in" feature, pal.

      • nonqu August 27, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

        I don't recall making you my pal...

        Anyway, in firefox just press shift+f2 and type screenshot --fullpage

  4. BBB August 25, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    there is only one downside of snipping tool and that is doesn't alow you out of the box to capture active menu's.
    There is a work around for this if you really need it.
    Another big advantage of snipping tool is that each change you made to the snip is directly reflected in the clipboard so you can paste it elswhere.
    My guess is if it becomes too good or to known, they'll have to remove it like they did with IE.

  5. G799 August 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Awesome Screenshot has the (unique among screenshot-taking Chrome extensions) feature of capturing a portion of the current webpage while scrolling the browser window, which the listed alternatives Lightshot and Webpage Screenshot do not have (the latter extension, however, allows for capturing a screenshot of an entire webpage and cropping it to the desired portion).

  6. Dwight Stegall August 25, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Snipping tool and Print Screen are good enough for me.

  7. chesscanoe August 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    PrtSc or right-click:Copy image to clipboard and IrfanView work for me for an image, and Ctrl-c - Ctrl-v work nicely into Notepad++ for text when the right options are chosen. For grabbing multiple screen frames e.g. when watching a full screen video, PrtSc with Screenshot Captor are handy. Of course these methods all work regardless of the browser used.

    • chesscanoe August 26, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      For me, Greenshot replaces Screenshot Capture I referenced above. There's no awkward repeating registration procedure, and so far Greenshot does what I need it to do. So far the unique attributes of Screenshot Capture and Greenshot seem to tell me I can live with Greenshot alone. Thanks to posts here convincing me to try it. Version 2 of Greenshot will no doubt be even better.

  8. Johne August 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    I use Greenshot. By far the best screencap program I've ever used.

  9. joe August 25, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    THANKS for the update, Martin.
    Removing this evil addon, RIGHT NOW!

    Under Linux Ubuntu,
    I use the "Shutter" screenshot app.
    Works great and.... no spyware!.

    Pls,
    keep us informed
    of any other rogue / evil
    software, addons, etc.

  10. scylla August 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    I use Greenshot, a free standalone. I have a 2-key combo to select a new screen area and a one-key hotkey for repeat captures of the same area. Presets include copying to clipboard/save directly to specified folder/send to email/open in image editor/upload to Imgur... among other options. For my particular needs Snipping Tool is too slow. And Greenshot's developer (the one I've e-met, anyway) is a very nice young man, a bonus ;-)

    Oh! I didn't notice that Johne had already given Greenshot a plug - much more succinctly than I have ;-D

  11. pd August 27, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    Does this same spyware issue apply to the Firefox version?

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/awesome-screenshot-capture-/

    I was looking at using the author's main service at one point:

    https://www.diigo.com/

    Can't imagine I will now.

    • Martin Brinkmann August 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

      While I have not analyzed the Firefox version in depths, it appears as if it still includes the shopping "add-on".

  12. Adam W. Warner September 18, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Hi Martin,

    This is a nice write up and summary of the issues recently faced by Awesome Screenshot users. I was an avid user until this was discovered and uninstalled it immediately.

    I'd like you to know that before any of this happened, my company was already in the process of building our own Chrome screenshot extension tool and as of today we are within days of a full release. It's named FooCapture and I'd love if you would take a look at what we've got brewing.

    Our company has been focused on WordPress and jQuery plugins for several years, but as regular tutorial blogger I was finding the process of taking screenshots and uploading them to WordPress tedious. So I asked our team if we could build an extension that allowed all the screenshot functionality we're used to, but also allow me to upload those images directly from that tool into my WordPress Media Library...and to my great joy, we've done just that:)

    You can learn more at http://foomedia.io
    Also a blog post about why we built it: http://foomedia.io/media-tools/

  13. Michael Scott December 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    So, Martin........is there an update from these guys.........since you slam-dunked them?

    Are they still SPYING?

    Thanks for any info.

    Michael

    • Martin Brinkmann December 9, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

      I have not looked at it afterwards. Still suggest to use alternatives.

  14. Anonymous December 10, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Webpage Screenshot also collects statistics and the option to disable this _feature_ is hidden, not much of an alternative...

  15. Adam W. Warner - Co-founder FooPlugins December 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    I suggested our FooCapture screenshot extension above already, but I can assure you all that we do not collect any information on our users other than what is required by Google.

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