Google has started to encrypt all its search engine results using SSL in order to protect its users against NSA style spying. The move follows revelations last year that the NSA was tapping into the main data channels between Google’s servers, which outraged Google at the time, and caused it rapidly harden its internal communications.
Now it has introduced SSL encrypted search results globally (encrypted results has already been in place for some time in some countries such as the US),
‘This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards.’
In addition to making it more difficult for government surveillance agencies to monitor users’ searches, turning on encryption will make it much harder for governments to censor specific search results, although they still have the option of blocking Google services altogether. How restrictive governments, such as those of China or Vietnam, will respond to the move remains to be seen.
While it will hopefully make the NSA’s job harder, it should be noted that SSL is one of the technologies that Edward Snowden’s revelations in September last year indicated had been compromised by the NSA, and Google themselves are keen to warn users that SSL encryption on its own does not guarantee that results cannot be spied upon,
‘Google Search uses SSL to encrypt the connection between your computer and Google to help prevent intermediary parties, like internet cafes, ISPs and WiFi hotspots, from intercepting or interfering with your search activities. While SSL helps protect your search results, which may include personal information from other Google services, it does not provide complete security against all potential risks (such as viruses and malware). When searching over SSL, it is still good to keep online safety best practices in mind.’
Although this is in many ways a positive and commendable move, we are not the first to observe that Google itself has little regard for its user’s privacy, as the company’s business model is built on harvesting users email, web visits and search queries so that it can deliver targeted advertising.