Thursday, July 01, 2010

Google - security, privacy and the World Cup!




Google is continuously developing and updating their suite of products and services and I’d like to briefly mention a few that I heard about recently which have implications for a variety of users which didn’t get quite as much attention as I think they deserved.

Firstly is the ability to search Google over an SSL encrypted connection. This is currently running under their ‘beta’ tag and is available at https://www.google.com(notice the ‘s’ in https).
This only appears to be working on the main site and not the country specific variants at the moment. When you are on this you can see the little secure padlock in your browser signifying the secure connection. So what does this mean? Well in a nutshell it means that the data from your browser and the Google server is encrypted so that no third party, listening in the middle, is able to see what is being sent to and fro. Your search terms and the results from Google cannot be intercepted and read by anyone or anything that may be spying on your internet connection. Who could be spying, or why you wouldn’t want them to see your search is a question for another day.
One side effect this has is to do with referrers, or lack thereof. Due to the way the web browsers work, if you are on a secure site and click on a link, the referrer information that is normally passed to the new link is not actually passed. So if the SSL version of the Google search becomes more popular, then webmasters will not be able to tell where their visitors came from or what they searched for if they visit the site via this new service. A plus point for privacy concerns some may say. However for internet marketing managers it could seriously affect their ability to know how people reached the site through natural search and would confuse search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies. Google have yet to comment about the above implications for SEO and Analytics, in reality this means that SSL could be some way off, watch this blog for updates.

You may also want to read this post from E-consultancy and the reader comments
"Will opt-out threaten Google Analytics?"

Talking of privacy, the second development that caught my eye is the release of the Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on, also currently in beta. This is an add-on available for the major web browsers (IE 7 & 8, Google Chrome 4.x upwards and Mozilla Firefox 3.5 upwards) that once installed allows you to prevent the Google Analytics ga.js script from sending information about your website visits back to Google Analytics.
I haven’t tried this myself but it sounds like users can make themselves almost invisible to Google Analytics which would again have implications for webmasters who are relying only on GA for their usage statistics. Statistics packages that are based on web server log files, such as SmarterTools’ SmarterStats, would not be affected as they process the access logs that are created directly from the web server and don’t rely on client side javascript to feed them data.
The Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on can be found at http://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout and is also linked from the Google Privacy Center.

Any finally, it may be too late for England in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but if you search on Google for “world cup” you get a special results page that has the latest fixtures at the top. I especially like the special image at the bottom of the page that deals with the results paging – Gooooooooooal!

Author: Andy Clarke

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