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Google Addresses WiFi Privacy Snafu With Encrypted Search

On May 21st, Google announced the addition of secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption for its search engine; a direct response to the company's accidental collection of users' personal information in countries all over the world.

From now on, when users search from the URL, the SSL will create an encrypted connection between the user's browser and Google to better shield users' search terms and search results pages from being intercepted by a third party.

On May 16th, the search engine admitted that its Street View cars that patrol city streets to record images had unknowingly collected users' payload data from unsecured WiFi networks. This included e-mail, passwords and browsing information.

This discovery has led to the further revalation that the internet giant has collected more than 600 gigabytes of users' data over the last three years.

This invasion of privacy is not being countenanced by the European Union or individual countries where Street View collected citizens' data, including the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the Czech Republic.

Google Software Engineer Evan Roseman, noted that SSL offers a "significant privacy advantage over systems that only encrypt log-in pages and credit card information."

Roseman went on to add that the new SSL encryption service will feature a modified logo to show users that they are using the SSL search facility.

The Google SSL search domain will not display topic tabs at the top of the screen as usual, such as Google Maps, Image Search and shopping, as these functions are not supported by SSL. Should users click on any of the Web results for unsupported services linked to Google Images, they will likely be taken out of SSL mode, Roseman warned.

He also stated that there might be a lag time for search results through the SSL connection, as it requires additional time to set up the encryption between the browser and the remote Web server.

Although privacy advocates have been calling for Google to SSL-enable its search for years, it seems clear that the the WiFi privacy gaffe of the last few days has no doubt accelerated Google's plans to offer SSL for search.

Governments overseas however are still harshly criticising Google for their privacy misstep, and experts are predicting that the debacle may still lend muscle to arguments that Google should be regulated.

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