Mozilla has made a small but important change to the way that its Firefox browser handles search queries directed to Google, making the search provider’s encrypted search service the default option. The modification is in is not in the stable version of Firefox yet, but users who download the daily beta builds can access it now.
The switch to using HTTPS for search by default is a major steo forward for Mozilla in terms of protecting the privacy of users’ search queries and results. Google has had an option for encrypted search for some time now and the company made secure search the default choice for users who are logged in to their Google accounts last October. However, Google has not made that option the default for its own Chrome browser.
With the change in Firefox, users of Mozilla’s browser now have an extra layer of protection for their search queries, something that is becoming increasingly importance in the age of surveillance, targeted ads and data sales.
“Google’s October 2011 decision to start proactively scrubbing search queries from the referrer header was a great first step, but a small percentage of Google’s search users benefited. Now that Mozilla is switching to HTTPS search, hundreds of millions of Firefox users will have their privacy protected, by default,” privacy and security researcher Chris Soghoian said in a blog post analyzing the switch for Firefox users.
“The only surprising aspect to this otherwise great bit of good news is that the first major browser to use HTTPS search is Firefox and not Chrome. I reasonably assumed that as soon as Google’s pro-privacy engineers and lawyers won the internal battle over those in the company sympathetic to needs of the SEO community, that Google’s flagship browser would have been the first to ship HTTPS by default.”
Google has not said publicly when it plans to enable HTTPS search by default for Chrome users, but with the move by Mozilla, it seems likely that Google will move in this direction soon.
“We would welcome Firefox giving their users the option to use encrypted search. However, at this time we don’t feel that our encrypted search offers the features and speed that our users expect and so we wouldn’t want it to be the default. We are working towards making encrypted search as fast and complete as unencrypted search, but we’re not there yet,” Google’s Adam Langley said in a comment on the Mozilla change in the company’s Bugzilla system.
Mozilla has not said when the change to HTTPS Google searches will show up in the stable channel of Firefox.