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Google Launches Encrypted Web Search

google ssl searchWant to keep your searches from being seen when using open WiFi or other networks? Google’s introduced a new “secure” encrypted version of its search.

Anyone who has been to a bank web site will be familiar with the idea of encryption, where a little “lock” symbol appears at the bottom of Firefox or the top of Internet Explorer. That signifies that no one can see what you’re sending to the encrypted web site. You’re speaking to it in a coded, encrypted language that only it speaks.

Now you can do the same with searching. Rather than visit Google at the usual http://google.com/ address, go to https://www.google.com/. That extra S after the https signifies that you’re using a secure connection.

Murali Viswanathan, Google’s Product Manager explained the purpose behind this SSL version of Google web search is to help prevent people from snooping on your traffic and picking up your Google searches.

Right now, encryption is only for web search. Google will slowly enable more and more of their search verticals (like Google Maps, images or news search) to offer SSL capabilities.

Google was clear that this is a beta release and the reason for the gradual release is due to SSL being much more resource intensive than normal http. The secure version of Google will have a different logo and some features will be removed, such as maps and so on from the navigation bar.

It is important to note that only the activity on https://www.google.com will be secure. Once you click on a search result and leave Google, your web traffic will no longer be encrypted.

It is also important to note that this is not a private search interface in that Google will continue to store your search history, as they do with normal web search, and your search history will be available in your Google account login area.

An important distinction here for webmasters is that typically traffic from https to http will strip off the referrer string information. That means if someone searches for a keyword in Google SSL web search and clicks on your web site, the referrer keyword data likely will not pass to your web analytics, including Google Analytics.

This is not something Google is blocking but rather this how browsers themselves handle referrals from secure sites. Potentially, it’s a huge issue to webmasters and marketers. If Google made secure search the default, suddenly no one would know important information on how people came to them. Google said default secure search could come, but it also didn’t seem likely any time soon, especially because it’s so resource intensive.

Of course, I do believe Google own Webmaster Tools will continue to show the click through rate of those web searches.

We did ask Google to clarify how referrers are handled in Google Analytics and other statistics tools, plus what data will be displayed in the Google Webmaster Tools reports. Google promised to have a follow up call about this topic with us at a later point.

Google has also offered encrypted (also called SSL) versions of Gmail, Analytics and other services for a while now.

Ironically, the move for encrypted search comes a week after Google admitted it had accidentally captured data from unsecured WiFi connections (see Google Stops WiFi Collecting Street View Cars After Privacy Concerns). Google apologized for that, with cofounder Sergey Brin saying “We screwed up” and promising better protections.

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