Running under the radar of most people was last week's announcement from Google that you can now conduct searches via SSL (secured socket layers). For those not familiar with this protocol it is a secure layer that encrypts the data going between two computers and is most commonly used on ecommerce sites to ensure security during the transaction phase and on some sites when forms are being completed.
You can see Google's secured search at https://www.google.com - once their you won't notice anything different except at the start of URL is https instead of http. You might now be wondering what's the big deal with Google using SSL and why does this post include the word "Impact" in it. So let's get down to it.
Over the past 6 months or so, there has been a lot of talk in the news about privacy when using the web most notably in the spotlight lately has been Facebook. Also, people are getting concerned that Google is gathering too much information about them and this includes what they are searching on. By introducing the secure search option the actual search query you made before clicking on a listed website in the search results will no longer be passed to the site on the other end of the click (commonly referred to as the "referrer"). This referrer information is a staple source of data for every web analytics team everywhere and this is where the impact starts and people's misunderstanding goes astray.
First off, Google still knows what you searched on and which search results you clicked on. It's their software after all. All that you are doing is hiding your search terms from the site you went to visit. This referrer information has been available almost from the beginning of the web. It has allowed people to analyze (web analytics) their website traffic, perfect their search engine optimization project and optimize search ads. While this might seem selfish, its not.
Let's look at it from an SEO perspective. By continually reviewing which terms from organic search drive quality traffic to a site, companies can put more effort into these good terms and less in the terms they thought were appropriate and didn't bring the appropriate traffic. By not focusing on the inappropriate terms, they will start dropping in the search results for these terms and get out of the way from the people searching these terms which clearly are not interested in the companies products or services and thereby not wasting the searcher's time.
The same can be said to paid search ads. By focusing on the right terms, users will only see ads that are appropriate for them. No need to waste your time surfing through inappropriate ads or sites.
While many people believe hiding your search terms from sites is a good thing from a privacy perspective, I beg to differ. The Internet and the web were created in an open framework which has allowed it to grow at incredible rates. Every time someone comes out with a proprietary tool or works in the shadows, growth is slowed. Yes privacy is a good thing, but what are you searching on that you need to hide these terms? Are you scared for example that a company that makes widgets will know you searched on "blue widgets" before coming to their site?
So let's leave it at that. Google is offering secured search to make people who are paranoid more comfortable, so they can keep up their market share of online search. They still have all your data on how, what and when you searched for something. All that secured search is doing is hurting the companies you're visiting financially which in the end may translate into higher prices.