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article imageGoogle encrypts search data against hackers, marketers 'howl'

By Leigh Goessl     Oct 18, 2011 in Internet
Google has been steadily at work making a lot of changes in several of its divisions over the past few years, including recently cleaning house with a 'fall sweep'.
Just this week Digital Journal reported Google shut down several services including Buzz and Jaiku. Now the technology giant is making another big move.
One of the other initiatives is developing stronger use of encryption protocol Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and this feature, intended to strengthen its search data from prying eyes, has caused mixed reactions.
In an Oct. 18 blog post posted by Evelyn Kao, Product Manager, entitled "Making search more secure", the company outlines why they are introducing SSL and how it will work.
"As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users."
Many users may have begun to see the change immediately, although Google says the transition will occur "over the next few weeks". When opening Google's homepage at http://www.google.com, logged-in Google customers will be brought to https://www.google.com. What happens is individuals seeking information through the search engine will have their search queries encrypted.
In a separate post Google says, "This secured channel helps protect your search terms and your search results pages from being intercepted by a third party. This provides you with a more secure and private search experience," indicating that this is important for users when using unsecured Internet connections such as Wi-Fi hotspots.
Google said users who do not have a Google account, or are not logged in, can manually navigate to the SSL enabled homepage and use the new feature. Additionally, the company said search results may load a bit slower for all users due to the need to connect to the secured results.
The primary reason why SSL is used is because its considered a stronger security standard. Websites where the user transmits information that is sensitive generally use SSL (i.e. credit cards, personal information, etc.), and Google is aiming to increase user security when they are using the search engine, so it has made SSL the default for logged-in Google users. However Google makes clear that while SSL offers "clear privacy and security benefits, it does not protect against all attacks".
Users are advised to be vigilant with protecting their computer and also checking their browser's list of trusted root certificates, security of the organizations issuing certificates and how the user and their chosen browser handles certificate warnings. Internet users should also be sure to use security software, and keep it updated, to protect against malware.
Currently SSL is available on web search, image search and other Google search modes, except for Maps, which is not enabled at this time.
Marketers are upset and concerned with this change because it prevents them from gaining valuable insight into search engine users and what types of information they are seeking.
Wired reported marketers "howled" because they now cannot see what search terms led the user to their page. Google's solution is that websites can instead use Google's webmaster tools to get "data on the top 1,000 search terms that led visitors to their site." While this is helpful, marketers will lose out on data that helps them discover how to optimize their websites with keywords.
Other complaints were harsher, due to the fact Google won't hide data if a searcher clicks on a paid ad because the company's advertisers need to have the ability to “measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.”
According to Search Engine Land, many across the web honed in on this issue. Here are a couple of excerpts:
"Joost de Valk, on SEO Book: Google Whores Out Users With False Privacy Claims This is what I call hypocrisy at work. Google cares about your privacy, unless they make money on you, then they don’t. The fact is that due to this change, AdWords gets favored over organic results. Once again, Google gets to claim that it cares about your privacy and pulls a major public “stunt”. The issue is, they don’t care about your privacy enough to not give that data to their advertisers."
"Peter Young, on Holistic Search Marketing: The day Google took on SEO, CRO and Analytics. To be honest the fact that its perfectly acceptable for PPC data to be tracked in the same circumstance that Google says it cannot pass organic data through for “privacy purposes” would suggest again this privacy is the least of their concerns. “You can have the data – as long as you pay us” would appear to be the rhetoric here."
So while some are likely to applaud Google for taking a stance to protect the privacy of its user base, others are none too happy with this change.
More about Google, Encryption, ssl, Search engine
 
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