Google says that they have begun encrypting users’ searches on a global scale as part of a broader effort to frustrate surveillance by governments and hackers.
The move will be particularly effective in countries where censorship is enforced on a national level. In China for examples citizens will be able to search for sensitive search terms such as “Tiananmen Square” without the authorities being automatically alerted.
However, Google holds only 5 per cent of the search market in China, with most users choosing to use the country’s Baidu search engine. Other Western companies such as Microsoft censor their results in accordance with the wishes of the Chinese government.
Countries also have the option of blocking Google altogether, but in nations where the search giant is still available it will be a boon to citizens. Google has plans to roll out the encryption globally but the schedule is not yet public.
Privacy advocates have long criticized Google for failing to routinely encrypt its searches, with Charlie Smith of censorship watchdog GreatFire writing in the Guardian last November that the company could “end online censorship in China, not in ten years, but in just 10 days.”
Despite these changes though Google’s routine monitoring of users’ searches and web history for targeted advertising will still remain an issue for users’ concerned with their privacy online.
A Google spokesperson told the Washington Post that the new encryption standards had been introduced in a reaction to the revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden as to the pervasive nature of government surveillance.
“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” said spokeswoman Niki Christoff in an e-mailed statement.
“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. ”