Google will begin letting users run encrypted searches on its flagship search site Google.com starting next week, the company said in a blog post Thursday.
Allowing users to search using https - the web security system which many associate with online banking and shopping — would mark a first for a major search engine, and could begin a move by web services such as social networks to begin offering encryption for more than just log-ins. Such increased adoption would cut down on network eavesdropping and also have the added benefit of preventing some online attacks.
Ironically, the announcement of the upcoming change came in a long blog post explaining that the search company had been “mistakenly” eavesdropping and recording what people were doing on unencrypted wi-fi networks as its Street View cars were taking pictures of cities around the world and recording the IDs of wifi networks and routers. That data is used to help geo-locate people using devices without GPS, but the company has said for years it was not collecting session data.
Google turned on encryption — better known as https:// — as a default for Gmail users earlier this year. That encrypts the data sent between a user’s browser and Google’s servers, making it nearly impossible for someone in the middle to read the contents of that e-mail. When not using SSL, a user of a school or corporate network can have their e-mail and web traffic content read by authorities who control the network, while anyone using an open Wi-Fi connection can have their traffic sniffed by a hacker using simple tools.