Google to Amazon: up yours!

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SSL: is annoying Amazon the intention, or a bonus?

Some things are universal: go to any playground anywhere in the world, and sooner or later some huffy kid will announce that it's their ball and they're taking it home.

Replace "playground" with "internet" and "huffy kid" with Google and what do you get? That's right: encrypted search queries!

Here's what Google says: "As search becomes an increasingly customised experience, we recognise the growing importance of protecting the personalised search results we deliver. As a result, we're enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users."

Here's what Google means: "Up yours, Amazon!"

Google adds: "We hope that today's move to increase the privacy and security of your web searches is only the next step in a broader industry effort to employ SSL encryption more widely and effectively."

Or as pop moppets Daphne and Celeste once put it: "Up your butt with a coconut!".

Smooth as Silk

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but the timing looks awfully suspicious: less than two weeks ago, Amazon unveiled its Silk browser, which just happens to see everything Kindle Fire users do. A domain name buying spree strongly hints that Silk is coming to other devices too: "We could see this web capability come to other Android tablets and smartphones, as well as to the desktop PC and Mac computers," TechRadar's Kate Solomon writes.

If you're wondering where Google comes into it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation provides the answer: while privacy concerns over Silk are probably exaggerated, "given the common practice employed by search engines of putting query terms in the URL as parameters, Amazon will effectively have a database of user search histories across many different search engines."

There's one kind of traffic Silk doesn't intercept: secure HTTP. SSL page requests bypass Amazon's servers altogether.

Guess what kind of traffic Google's now suggesting you use?

Viewed in that light, the language used in Google's blog post is illuminating: it's using SSL to protect "the personalised search results we deliver" - your privacy doesn't get mentioned until later on. SSL does, of course, help protect privacy, but that doesn't seem to be the main motivator here.

What we're seeing here is simple. It's Google's ball, and it's taking it home.


Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.