While Google users in the U.S. and many other countries have been getting encrypted searches by default, Google has now expanded and begun encrypting web searches conducted by users in China, the Washington Post reported.
The change comes about as part of Google’s plan for global expansion of their encrypted search, in part to combat surveillance of online activity by governments, police, hackers, and others.
It also has wider spread implications. The Chinese government has a long history of blocking searches they decide are politically sensitive the topics, such as Tiananmen Square.
But the move to encrypted search means nations that intercept user searches will find it much more difficult, if not impossible, to be able to block those sensitive searches. And if they are able to, they will have difficulty connecting searches to specific users.
“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” a Google spokesperson told the Post. “This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards. ”
Google pulled back most of their operations out of mainland China back in 2010, in part because they didn't want to either censor user searches, or present them with alternative search results that were government approved. China's biggest search engine, Baidu, on the other hand, censors searches and participates in the redirecting to sites the government deemed to be preferred.
Google’s search share in China is very small, sitting at only 5 percent in a market that is largely dominated by Baidu. Whether this change to encrypted search will make users more likely to use Google, time will soon tell. However many web users in China already utilize methods to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.