Google began offering an encrypted option for Web searchers on Friday and said it planned to roll it out for all of its services eventually.
People who want to use the more secure search option can type “https://www.google.com” into their browser, scrambling the connection so the words and phrases they search on, and the results that Google displays, will be protected from interception.
The beta service of the secure Web search option begins in the United States on Friday and will be rolled out over the next few days to users around the world, said Murali Viswanathan, a Google search product manager.
Friday’s announcement makes Google the first major search engine to offer this privacy-protective feature. AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft currently do not.
“Some users will want the extra privacy and security this feature will offer,” Viswanathan said in an interview with CNET. “But it’s not going to be the default option, at this point. There’s a lot of work to be done before we get there.”
The encryption protects only data in transit between an individual’s browser and the Google search server. When people click on a search result and are directed to another Web site, they leave the encrypted channel.
Offering encrypted connections to Google.com means that users in China and other regimes that engage in significant surveillance will — assuming the connection is not blocked in the first place — be able to conduct searches without governments knowing the search terms.
The protected Web search service will feature a customized logo that includes an icon of a lock and “SSL” which stands for Secure Sockets Layer, the technology used to encrypt the information as it travels between an individual’s computer and the Google search server.