Google Ponders Using Its Search Algorithms to Encourage Encryption

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 1:14 PM EDT

From the Wall Street Journal:

In a move that experts say could make it harder to spy on Web users, Google is considering giving a boost in its search-engine results to websites that use encryption, the engineer in charge of fighting spam in search results hinted at a recent conference.

The executive, Matt Cutts, is well known in the search world as the liaison between Google’s search team and website designers who track every tweak to its search algorithms....Google uses its search algorithm to encourage and discourage practices among web developers. Sites known to have malicious software are penalized in rankings as are those that load very slowly, for instance. In total, the company has over 200 “signals” that help it determine search rankings, most of which it doesn’t discuss publicly.

I don't want to make too big a deal out of this, but I'm a little nervous about the power Google is demonstrating here. Google has a two-thirds share of the search market, which makes it an effective monopoly in this space, and they're none too transparent about just how they exploit this dominance. Encrypting web sites is probably a good thing to encourage, but it's hardly necessary for every site. Nor is it clear just what Google would decide counts as proper encryption. Do some encryption standards and suppliers stand or fall based on whether Google's algorithm recognizes them?

I haven't given this a ton of thought, so just take this as a bit of noodling. To the extent that Google's algorithms are genuinely aimed at producing the most useful results for people, it's hard to fault them. When they start to go beyond that, though, things get a little gray. What comes next after this? It's worth some thought.