Clean Up your Browser when Screen Sharing

a person browsing google on imac
Photo by Philipp Pistis on

This current era of frequent Zoom meetings and screen sharing means I get to see how lots of peoples’ browsers are set up, whether they intend me to or not. I often notice that people have personal information visible in their browser window that gives us an unintentional glimpse into their personal affairs. Here are some pointers for how to tidy up your browser chrome to keep your secrets secret. 

Too Many Open Tabs

cluttered tab bars in different browsers

People vary wildly in how comfortable they are keeping several browser tabs open. You may consider them all essential for what you’re doing at the moment, or you may just not be in the habit of closing them when you don’t need them. Some people I’ve seen have different “sections” of tabs for different job-related tasks. 

Each of those open tabs in the background is quietly hogging some of your computer’s precious memory, slowing down your machine for the tasks that are front-of-mind for you. This is reason enough to get out of the habit of leaving too many tabs open. 

And, of course, I’ve sat through many presentations where the person has some clearly “off-topic” tabs open in the background. I’m not here to judge, but you might want to hide your Fantasy Football, online shopping, or that TV show you’re bingeing in the background while you work. Even if you have nothing to hide, you probably aren’t sharing this stuff intentionally, so it can only be taking attention away from your presentation, so it’s best to hide it. 

All right then, keep your secrets!

Solution: One Tab

For years I’ve used OneTab to get my tabs under control. It records all your open tabs to a list in a single tab so you can always come back to them later, but it dramatically frees up your computer’s memory for the work you’re doing now

I believe people keep so many tabs open so they won’t “lose their place”, or to form groups of tabs that are useful for specific work tasks. OneTab lets you do this, allowing you to group your tab links and save them for later when you want to relaunch them days or weeks later.

Solution: Browser-based Tab Management Tools

If you don’t want to use yet another browser extension, you might read up on the built-in tools your browser offers for tab management. 

My beloved Vivaldi Browser has the most advanced set of built-in tools for managing your tabs. If tab management is an issue for you, it might be just the reason you need to switch to this Chromium-based browser. 

However, ChromeFirefoxSafari, and Edge all offer some features designed to meet this common pain point, so it’s a good idea to RTFM your favorite browser’s documentation to find a solution that works for you. 

Messy Bookmarks Bar

a cluttered browser bookmark bar

Another common error I see is people whose bookmark bar is cluttered with random assorted links to personal sites, visible for all to see. I’ve been on meetings where people show off which bank they use, which dating sites they’re on, and which partisan news outlets they read. Again, your choices are your own, but they’re also not the business of your colleagues and collaborators – just hide them!

Solution: Fast Bookmark Folders

The bookmark manager in Vivaldi browser

Within your browser’s built in Bookmarks manager, there is a folder called Bookmarks Bar or something similar. Any of your bookmarks that appear in this folder will be displayed across your bookmarks bar as in the image above. 

For better privacy, you can put sub-folders inside this folder and name them whatever you want. Then they will display as pull-down menus so you can still quickly get at them, but they won’t be visible on screen shares. 

This way, I can select my bookmarks from a list that neatly collapses to hide its contents.

Hide your Browser Extensions

Again, your web browser will, by default, display icons for any browser extensions you have installed for all to see. Again, your browser extensions can provide strangers with inadvertent insights into your proclivities, so it’s best to be intentional about which ones are visible and which aren’t. 

Solution: Hide Extensions

Vivaldi and other Chrome-based browsers have the ability to hide your browser extensions behind a single extensions icon. Click the icon to reveal your full set of extensions for easier use, click it again to hide. 

Solution: Custom Chrome Extension Manager

I also use the Custom Chrome Extension Manager that allows you to turn your extensions on or off from a simple list. You can even create profiles or scenes like “Work” or “Web Surfing” to have only the extensions you want enabled for those activities.

Embarrassing YouTube Recommendations

I was just on a work call where we were screensharing YouTube videos about accessibility issues, and I realized my YouTube recommended videos sidebar were visible to my team. Thankfully there’s nothing too incriminating in there, but I think it’s distracting at best, embarrassing or incriminating at worst for people to see what you like to watch on YT.

After fiddling within the YouTube UI, it became clear that there’s no way to collapse or minimize those recommendations for a cleaner, distraction-free experience by default. Even in Theater Mode (press t within YouTube), your recommendations are moved down but not hidden, so anyone could still see the kinds of stuff you watch.

Solution: DF Tube Chrome Extension

That’s why I searched for this #ChromeExtension that disables your recommendations sidebar.

Supporting Attention

Hopefully, these tricks will help you button up your browser so your audience can better focus on what you want to show them and not what they can accidentally see.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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