As disturbing information comes to light of the depth and breadth of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) spying program, three things have happened: Americans have become angrier, politicians have done more grandstanding and technology companies have been quietly trying to make it just a little bit harder for government agencies to use the information they collect against American citizens.
In late September, Google made a change – very quietly – that aimed to encrypt all search activity except for clicks-on ads. The move was reportedly undertaken to provide “extra protection” for searchers whose online activity was a target for the NSA and other security and intelligence agencies.
The encrypted searching has reportedly been in place for users logged into Google since 2011, but now it’s a staple for everyone using Google search, the Mountain Valley, California-based search giant has confirmed:
“We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year,” Google told Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand. “We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”
The change hasn’t pleased everyone, says Sullivan. When Google searches are encrypted, search terms that are normally passed along to publishers after someone clicks on their links at Google are withheld. In Google Analytics, the actual term is replaced with a “Not Provided” notation. This information was formerly a large source of information for publishers, who are less than happy to find it’s no longer available.
“A lot of people who conduct marketing on the web are freaking out about it: Now, they complain they're basically flying blind,” wrote Business Insider’s Jim Edwards. “And they're angry, because the data that has been switched off is the ‘organic’ search data, not the paid search data generated when people click on search ads.”
Because of the new encryption program, Google is only passing along data regarding what words are generating incoming traffic to publishers who pay for advertising on Google. While Google has replaced the free data with the information derived from its Webmaster Tools product, publishers say it’s not the same.
“Many marketers complain that the difference between organic search data in Google Analytics and the data inside Webmaster Tools is that the latter is based on a sampling, or an average set of aggregated traffic. It's not the full data set of terms that generate all Google visits to your web site,” wrote Edwards. “And it isn't as accurate or useful, a source tells Business Insider, because search marketing is an extremely quant-oriented business where full, accurate datasets convey significant advantages.”
One marketing executive who recently spoke to Ad Age called it a “data apocalypse.” Americans aware of the extent of government spying on their online activities, however, should be pleased that Google had a choice between them and marketers and chose them.
Edited by Blaise McNamee