Google’s Secure Search Raises Privacy Concerns
With the amount of data being sent around the internet privacy is an obvious concern. Google has now approached this issue by making its Secure Search the default for logged in users. However, the outcome is a double standard in Google’s security policy and a loss of valuable information for website owners and users of Google Analytics.
Is there a problem with privacy?
Google wants the internet to be a more secure place. Since Google searches are becoming increasingly personalized, the leading search engine implemented an encryption protocol called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which helps to protect information from third parties. The result is Google’s Secure Search and it is now the default if you are logged into any of Google’s services (e.g. Gmail, Google+, etc.). Unfortunately Secure Search also withholds referral information from Google analytics and this has caused an outcry by many webmasters and internet marketers.
So why are they so upset? While everyone agrees that more privacy on the internet is a good thing, there have been doubts as to Google’s motivation behind their move. This is what happened:
- Google now offers Secure Search, which is available for anyone using the URL https://www.google.com (Google has added another S to search; can you find it in the URL?)
- Users logged into Google services are directed to Secure Search by default
- If users find a website through the organic results of Secure Search, the keywords used are not visible in Analytics. Instead it shows “(not provided)”
- If the user finds a website through an AdWord in Secure Seach the keywords are visible for the advertiser
- Traffic through standard Google searches is still reported in Analytics
It is this apparent double standard in privacy that is causing bad publicity for the search giant. It seems that Google is protecting search results with the exception of paying AdWords clients. While many have voiced their criticism about Google’s seemingly dubious strategy (read Danny Sullivan’s detailed post to learn more about this controversy), we shall focus on how this change can influence you directly.
Everyone just calm down!
It is difficult to see where Google’s move to more security will take us, but for now the effects are rather mild. The referral information (i.e. the keywords used in the search) are only hidden for searches by users logged into their Google account. According to Google’s predictions this is less than 10% of overall searches and so far the estimation holds true. Also search terms are still available via Google Webmaster Central, even though these don’t match the Analytics data exactly. So if you own or run a website there is no cause to panic yet. However, there are a few things you can do…
How to react
It is clear to see why webmasters and marketers are upset with Google, as the search engine is withholding valuable information about the website’s visitors. Also, with Google gently pushing web users towards their services the numbers of signed in searches is likely to increase; especially since mobile internet users tend to stay logged into these services. Google’s move to protect search results is bound to have long term effects. Consider some of the strategies below to prepare yourself:
- Track the lost data by taking note of the number of (not provided) referrals and how they relate to your overall visits from google.com
- Spread your sources by using data provided by Bing and Yahoo!
- Voice your opinion
If you are not sure how to make yourself heard you could blog about it, leave a comment on Google’s post or post your opinion in the comment section below.