For those of you who want to secure your online privacy, Google has recently introduced (and updated) an encrypted version (https://encrypted.google.com) of it’s popular Search page. You can now search the web without anyone (not Google see below :(), including your ISP intercepting what you are searching for. Google Search uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which encrypts your searches providing you with a more secure and private search experience. The Google logo looks slightly different – you should see the SSL (lock) symbol above the ‘e’ in Google.
The downsides with SSL encryption are speed. The SSL (HTTPS) services run slightly slower than non-SSL (you may have had these experiences with Facebook and Twitter HTTPS). There are Google Search SSL limitations though – encrypted Google Search can only be used with “Web” searches – hence it currently is still in ‘beta’ mode. Google plans to roll out encrypted search for “Images”, “Videos”, “Maps” and so in the near future. A final point worth mentioning here – Google still maintains your SSL search data though. The SSL data is only hidden from third-parties.
To find out how Google Search collates your search term data, I suggest you register for a Google account with http://www.google.com/. This should really open your eyes!! Google Web history provides you with an online audit trail of your web activity. Although it doesn’t store the page contents, it does use the URL of pages you’ve visited along with a timestamp. If you’re accessing a secure page such as the SSL service mentioned above, then your activity isn’t recorded in Web History.
So how do you see your Web History? You will see your name on the top right (if you have the Google account setup) – click on the sprocket symbol (right handside) and click Web History. Make sure when you sign in you have checked ‘Remember me on this computer for Web History’. Note: For Google to record web page visits, you also need to install the Google toolbar for your browser and enable the Page Rank and Page Info option. Without the toolbar, only your searches will be saved.
You have learned an important lesson here. Search data is easily collected and analysed regardless of whether SSL is enabled or whether you have a Google Account (i.e. see your Web History). Just how secure and private is your search history? Right now, people don’t know, so naturally don’t care. I personally suspect that over time this attitude will change.
Safe surfing folks!