Bad Move By Google: Hiding Search Referral Info... Unless You're An Advertiser

from the does-no-one-review-these-things-for-anti-trust-issues? dept

Last week, when Google announced that it was going to start encrypting searches and outbound clicks by default for users who are logged in, I thought it was a good thing. Greater encryption makes sense for a lot of search info. I was also mostly unimpressed by the complaints of search engine optimizers that this took away a key source of data on search referrals -- even though, as a publisher, search referrals are actually pretty important info for me to understand.

But that was before Danny Sullivan's post over the weekend that goes into great detail on the specifics of what Google did and on how it appears to only block such info from publishers, while creating a work around for advertisers. This seems especially questionable -- and doubly so -- at a time when Google is facing antitrust scrutiny. Do they have no one at the company who reviews these things for how it will look on the antitrust front?

I won't get into all the details -- seriously, just read Sullivan's post to understand what happened -- but the simplest way to explain it is that Google had a real opportunity to actually make the web a lot more secure, by creating a real incentive for lots of other sites to become more secure. But, instead, it limited things in a way that suggests it's doing things that are potentially anti-competitive, favoring its own advertisers and providing them info that others don't get. The key point isn't that Google turned on the default SSL searches, but how they did it, and how they missed an opportunity to actually make things more secure:
What I do know is that Google missed a huge opportunity to make the entire web much more secure. Google could have declared that it was shifting its default search for everyone – not just logged-in users — to be secure. Privacy advocates would have loved this even more than the current change which, using Google’s own figures, protect less than 10% of searchers.

Google could have also said that if anyone wanted to continue receiving referrer data, they needed to shift to running secure servers themselves. Remember, referrers pass from secure server to secure server.

Millions of sites quickly adopted Google +1 buttons in the hopes they might get more traffic from Google. Those same millions would have shifted — and quickly — over to secure servers in order to continue receiving referrer data.

Better protection across the web for everyone, while maintaining the unwritten contract between search engines and the publishers that support them to provide referrer data. That would have been a good solution. Instead, we got Google providing protection for a sliver of those searching, withholding data from the majority of sites that support it and solving problems only for its advertisers.
Hopefully, Google will see the wisdom of what Danny is suggesting, and make that change, rather than the one that they did.
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Filed Under: privacy, search
Companies: google

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Oct 2011 @ 8:05pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh - I thought you had drank it all.

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