14 Mar 2014

Google Rolls Out Search Encryption in China

Google has started encrypting keyword searches performed in China, as part of a global initiative to prevent mass surveillance by hackers and governmental agencies, according to The Washington Post.

In February, the company started to routinely cypher search texts to protest Chinese government’s censorship known as The Great Firewall. The new feature prevents intelligence agencies, hackers and police from seeing what people are browsing for, including politically sensitive topics. Authorities are also unable to identify individuals searching for a particular subject.

“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks,” Niki Christoff, Google spokeswoman, said. “Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world.”

Google plans to implement encryption globally in the coming months. The change will affect Firefox, Safari and Chrome, which support automatic encryption, but not older generations of browsers such as Internet Explorer 6.

“No matter what the cause is, this will help Chinese netizens to access information they’ve never seen before,” said Percy Alpha, co-founder of GreatFire.org, an activist group that monitors China’s Great Firewall. “It will be a huge headache for Chinese censorship authorities. We hope other companies will follow Google to make encryption by default.”

In response, Chinese authorities can decide to block Google services completely since the company has reduced its presence in China and accounts for less than 5 percent of all searches.

Google began offering optional encrypted search for some US and UK users in 2010 and made it widely available in 2012.